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Women in the Home

Referendums on 'women in the home' reference and wider definition of family to be held in March

The vote will take place on International Women’s Day.

TWO REFERENDUMS WILL be held on International Women’s Day next year to change constitutional references to ‘women in the home’ and expand the definition of the family, the Taoiseach has confirmed. 

It had initially been envisaged that the people would be asked to vote in November, however, there have been significant delays in the publishing of the proposed wording, particularly in relation to the ‘women in the home’ clause in the Irish Constitution. 

Today, Cabinet decided the following:

  • to amend Article 41 of the Constitution to provide for a wider concept of family
  • to delete Article 41.2 of the Constitution to remove text on the role of women in the home, and insert a new Article 42B to recognise family care.

Draft wording of the referenda has been released today, but the final wording will brought before an incomporal Cabinet meeting for approval on Thursday after it has been sent to the Oireachtas Justice Committee for the waiving of pre-legislative scrutiny.

Both referendums come after recommendations were made by the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality.

The Citizens’ Assembly recommended that an article of the constitution which deals with the family should be amended so protection is not limited to marital families.

It was also recommended that the constitution be amended to remove a reference to a woman’s “life within the home” and replace it with language that is non-gender specific that recognises care within the home and wider community.

Definition of the family

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed today that the Constitution will continue to explicitly protect both the family and the institution of marriage but the government is proposing it be changed to acknowledge that families may also be founded on other “lasting relationships”, other than marriage.

For example, a family which is headed by a lone parent or a family headed by grandparents or guardians. 

He said such an amendment will give constitutional protections to those not in a “marital family”, and will extend to those in “lasting relationships and put them on an equal footing with married families”.

Such changes will enable the Constitution “to catch up with contemporary reality”, said Varadkar.

Equality Minister Roderic O’Gorman said the current wording excludes thousands of families from the recognition and the protection of the Constitution solely because those families are not based on marriage.

“The current wording seeks to contain women in a very singular role, a role that’s completely divorced from the reality of women’s lives, of women’s careers across our state today,” he added. 

Education Minister Norma Foley said there the wonderful carers in homes around Ireland include both men and women.

“There are families where it is the Dad who stayed home” and others where the father does work outside of the home, adding that there are also many one-parent families who juggle work and childcare.

“We want to, and indeed I would say, we need to recognise the dynamic and diverse caring arrangements of Irish families today,” she said. 

‘Women’s life in the home’

The Government is also proposing to remove the reference to the woman’s life in the home on the basis that it no longer reflects “modern social norms’, with Tánaiste Micheál Martin stating today that it is “outdated” language.

O’Gorman said the “archaic” and “sexist language” to a woman in the home “has contributed nothing”.

“The key is that women choose the roles they play in our society,” he added. 

Finally, upon legal advice, a related proposal to insert a specific reference to gender equality and nondiscrimination will not proceed. 

Varadkar said legal advice has advised that references to gender equality could “unwittingly downgrade other minorities”. 

“All citizens are equal before the law, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, social class or anything else and we believe that by elevating any particular category, for example, that of sex-based discrimination, it could unwittingly downgrade others, such as those relating to disability, race or ethnicity for example,” the Taoiseach explained. 

“We firmly believe that passing these events will reinforce the fact that Ireland is a modern, inclusive nation that strives to treat and care for all of its people equally,” he added.

Respectful debate 

“We will push back strongly against misinformation,” he also told reporters today. 

“It’s crucial that we listen carefully to people in groups who may oppose these proposals and give them a fair hearing. We’re all aware that it’s far too easy for debate to become polarised. And the only way to avoid this is to participate in an informed, respectful conversation with everyone concerned,” he said. 

The Taoiseach said that people who engage in misinformation or disinformation around the referendum are going to be “called out”. 

He said he has been involved in a number of referendum campaigns, highlighting that during the marriage equality vote, some people tried to turn it into a referendum on surrogacy “even though it was nothing to do with that”. 

Varadkar said that the Government is going to the upcoming referendums “as seriously” as it did the referendums on marriage equality and the Eight Amendment .

“We’re going to make sure that all the information is out there and the facts are out there,” he added.  

The Taoiseach also the Government has taken each of these proposals “very seriously and spent a considerable amount of time in thinking through all of the implications that arise”.

An Coimisiún Toghcháin, Ireland’s independent electoral commission, has confirmed that planning for the referendum is already underway. 

It has taken on the role previously held by the Referendum Commission to provide independent, impartial information about the proposals being put to the people, and to encourage people to vote.

It said an independent information campaign will run across national and regional media ahead of the vote. An information booklet will also be delivered to each home in the country.

The public are also be encouraged check the electoral register

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