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'Women in the home clause' the key question as virtual Citizens' Assembly to deliver its results

The issue was to be put to a referendum during the lifetime of the previous government.

A panel discussion on gender based violence.
A panel discussion on gender based violence.
Image: Youtube

THE CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY on Gender Equality will deliver its results today, 15 months after it first convened and after moving online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The Citizens’ Assembly has held eight meetings as part of its remit, two in person and six online, discussing gender equality issues including gender-based violence, women in leadership, care and work and welfare. 

The most-high profile meeting was in February when it discussed Article 41 of the Constitution, the clause relating to ‘women in the home’.

This issue was to be put to a referendum during the lifetime of the previous government but this did not take place.  

Article 41 of the Constitution recognises the role of the family unit in society. It is Article 41.2 which is at the centre of the debate.

It states: “In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.”

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

A Constitutional Convention similar to the Citizens’ Assembly eight years previously recommended that the article be amended

The Citizens Assembly has therefore been focused on discussing whether the clause should be kept as it is, taken out of the Constitution, or replaced by something else. 

The latter two options would require a referendum. 

The Assembly heard arguments that the clause has had little use in law in that it did not prevent women’s rights being curtailed in the post Constitutional era after 1937, nor was it responsible for improvements in women’s rights in the following decades. 

Dr Laura Cahillane, a law lecturer at the University of Limerick argued that deleting the article “has the advantage of clarity, certainty and simplicity” but would also “remove any recognition of care work from the Constitution”.

She added that if the option to replace the Article is picked, it is likely to be a gender neutral alternative that would recognise the role of care work in the home.

Outcomes

The results of the deliberations of the Citizens’ Assembly on all of the Gender Equality issues will be delivered this morning from 11.15 am by chairperson Catherine Day. 

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The 100-person assembly is made up Day and 99 registered voters who were not allowed to be officers in political parties, journalists, employees of polling companies or members of advocacy groups  

The Assembly held its inaugural meeting on the issue of Gender Equality in January 2020 with another meeting the following month.

More meetings were scheduled to follow when it was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The work of the Assembly stalled for several months before it took what Day described as the “reluctant” decision to move its work online. 

The decision to do so was taken because the alternative was to cancel the Assembly completely. After engaging with the members of the Assembly, the vast majority said they would be happy to continue via Zoom.

A trial run in the form of an online seminar took place in July 2020 and then the Assembly formally met for the first time online in October. There have been five more meetings in subsequent months. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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