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Girls & Women

Ireland's Constitution Still Includes Women's 'Duties in the Home'. But Maybe Not for Long.


Why Global Citizens Should Care 
Gender equality in itself is one of the UN’s Global Goals, but it also directly relates to many others — to education, nutrition, and action against climate change, to name a few. Getting rid of outdated ideas like “a woman’s place is in the home” is essential to the continued efforts to empower girls and women everywhere. You can join us by taking action for gender equality here

It’s been just over a month since the Republic of Ireland voted decisively to legalise abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy in a historic referendum. 

Now, it’s set to hold another referendum in the effort to bring its constitution, which was written in 1937, up to date with its population's more liberal ideas. 

The government announced that there’ll be a people’s vote on whether or not to remove a bit of the constitution that refers to a woman’s life and duties in the home.

Take action: Sign the 'She Decides' Manifesto

It might not put an end to those laughably unfunny “jokes,” telling women to “get back in the kitchen” or “make me a sandwich,” right away. But it would be a valuable step in recognising that female economic empowerment is a thing now. 

It also wouldn’t restrict women’s right to choose to prioritise their family life over a career, but it would recognise that it’s a woman’s own choice rather than a “duty.” 

The clause of the constitution that the referendum will be on is article 41.2. 

At the moment, it reads: “By her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.” 

Read more: Ireland Votes 'Yes' to Legalise Abortion in Landslide Referendum

“The state shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home,” it adds.

It’s now over 80 years since the constitution was formally adopted and, according to justice minister Charlie Flanagan, “it is clear that article 41.2 has no place in our constitution.” 

“It undermines today’s goal to achieve real gender equality by ensuring women have real choices about what to do with their lives,” he said.

Flanagan added that the clause “may reflect the prevailing social ethos of the 1930s.” But he pointed out that it wasn’t an entirely uncontroversial clause then too. 

Read more: Finland's Justice Minister Is Calling for a Child Marriage Ban

“A number of people argued it represented a narrow, discriminatory view that sought to confine women to one part of society only — carrying out duties in the home,” he said. 

Among the most high-profile referendums in Ireland so far are the decision to repeal a constitutional clause that restricted abortion rights in May and a 2015 decision to introduce same-sex marriage into the constitution. 

The vote itself will be held on the same day as the presidential election, which is due to be held by November, and another referendum concerning the country’s blasphemy laws that was announced in June.