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Opinion Mainstream feminists are backing the 'care amendment' - this is a mistake

Dr Rosaleen McDonagh says the mainstream women’s movement is unwittingly reinforcing patriarchal norms by supporting the vote on 8 March.

BEING A DISABLED feminist is complex. Feminism has a habit of compromising Disabled women. Reproductive rights issues are challenging for most women, particularly those with disability. During the 8th amendment campaign, many disabled women supported the yes vote. This was done with honour, pride and grace, prioritising the well-being of other women.

However, the context of wording in the Constitutional referendum on the “care amendment” (new Article 42B) happening next week is different. The Women’s movement seems to have allowed the state to minimise who is seen as a rights holder. The recommendation of the Citizens’ Assembly around this legislation recognises both those providing and receiving care and the State’s involvement in supporting both cohorts of people. It’s disappointing that it was not the basis for the proposed wording on 8 March next.

Stating the case

The women’s organisations in this debate appear to have momentum in this vote and are presented as holding the high moral ground. Their rhetoric is carefully crafted: it has apparent respectability, rationality and reasonableness. Feminism and disability rights politics are understood as women living dichotomised lives. As a Traveller woman with a disability, my politics continuously evolve, collide and overlap.

There is unanimity on the imperative to dismantle the current feminisation of care, which extends its tendrils into childcare, care of older people and support for disabled people. There is agreement on the urgent need to change the current wording of the Constitution.

The division that has emerged concerns the proposed wording for the “care amendment”, and it reflects a chasm between the feminist movement and disabled women. This time, we expected a more critical response from feminists toward the government’s flawed wording for the “care amendment”.

Disability and feminism

Disabled women find themselves entangled in a predicament as a result, one that is further exacerbated by the government’s unwillingness to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and ratify the optional protocol. The UNCRPD Optional Protocol establishes a mechanism for individual complaints. It is a side agreement, and this incomplete implementation of the Convention leaves disabled individuals without a legal guarantee for or provision of necessary support or pathways to address and secure the requirements for independent living.

Any feminist discourse revolves around a woman’s lived reality. The universality of sexism and misogyny highlights the necessity of solidarity within the women’s movement. Defending the intricacies of feminist struggles and aligning with those in power does not condemn feminism and its principles, but rather reveals the pervasive influence of patriarchal ideologies. Even the most well-intentioned movements are affected by this phenomenon.

I believe there is a systemic gender bias embedded within disability organisations, and this perpetuates a context that undermines the rights of women with disabilities. The leadership and hierarchies, including the decision-making processes and overall organisational culture, often mirror broader societal inequalities, side-lining the voices and concerns of women. The consequences are far-reaching, impacting not only the representation of Disabled and Deaf women but also exerting influence on social policy that does not address our interests.


Solidarity means recognising diversity and taking an intersectional perspective. What is intersectionality? Well, intersectionality is defined as ‘the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalised individuals or groups’. Solidarity with this approach highlights the crucial need for feminism to evolve beyond a one-size-fits-all approach.

Black feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw emphasises intersectionality is not about a hierarchy of oppression but the intersection of multiple forms of discrimination. Diversity is often met with scepticism or, worse, hostility. Embracing diverse identities is essential for innovation, understanding, influence and progress. The loss of respect for Disabled and Deaf women inhibits the collective growth of feminist politics.

The wording of the “care amendment” (42B) proposed by the government and espoused by the mainstream women’s movement unwittingly reinforces patriarchal norms, thus perpetuating systemic inequalities. The phrase “to strive”, used in the proposed “care amendment”, carries with it a weight of insult and infantilisation for women and girls with disabilities. It signals a potential continuation of the status quo, wherein disabled individuals remain passive recipients of “care”.

This situation shows a stark denial of choices, rights, bodily integrity, freedom and independence. These are the very tenets that form the guiding principles of feminism. We wanted and expected more from Irish feminism. To demand and embrace more empowering and respectful language that recognises and articulates the strength, resilience and agency of women with disabilities.

The wording for this referendum compromises Deaf and Disabled women.

In the words of disability rights advocate Judy Heumann, “Inclusion occurs when diversity is embraced when every woman can participate and reach her full potential”. The existing barriers limit the participation of Deaf and Disabled women in feminist spaces. The current positioning of the mainstream women’s movement about the proposed “care amendment” negates any potential for this inclusion. Adequately responding to these challenges requires a concerted effort to make women’s struggles truly inclusive, recognising and accommodating the diverse needs of Disabled and Deaf women. This should start with the referendum on a new Article 42B for the Constitution.

To be compromised and left to one side by a mainstream women’s movement feels shameful. Deaf and Disabled women have paid the price of being abused, disrespected, ignored and considered a nuisance. Feminism and disability politics need to find a way of coexisting. The contribution of disabled feminists needs to be acknowledged. The oppression of disabled women is linked to the cultural oppression and shaming of women’s bodies. Disabled women’s experiences reflect the bigger picture of being a woman in this society.

Rosaleen McDonagh is a playwright from the Traveller Community. 

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Rosaleen McDonagh