The Irish government announced plans to hold a referendum to change the constitution this November by removing a clause in which women are described as the nation’s primary homemakers. The government’s objective in calling the referendum is to make the constitution gender-neutral.
Irish voters will be asked if they want to delete parts of article 41.2 of the constitution—known colloquially as “the women’s place in the home”—which specifies that “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 constitution stipulates that “mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.” Despite its incorporation in the constitution, the clause is seen as largely symbolic and has never been invoked.
This referendum is the latest move toward constitutional liberalisation by the Irish state, which has sought to overturn the constitutional legacy of Catholicism. In response, Catholic advocacy groups have aired their opposition to the planned vote.
The vote will occur in tandem with potentially two other gender-equality referenda to redefine the family and the role of women in Irish law.
The Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar welcomed the news and linked the language used in the constitution to institutional sexism.
The Irish constitution came into force under the leadership of Éamon de Valera in 1937 and can only be amended by a national referendum. This is not the first such referendum in the move toward liberalisation; the Irish public voted in 2018 to legalise abortion.
John McGuirk, the editor of the conservative publication Gript, criticised the referendum as a “meaningless symbolic change” in the face of worsening economic conditions.
The referendum is supported by all major political parties and, despite spirited opposition from different political camps, is expected to be overwhelmingly passed.