Picture Credit: Natalia Campos/Getty Images

Why did Irish women vote No?

Tired of seeing women and mothers erased in law and policy, Ireland’s women sent a resounding message

Artillery Row

Almost two years ago a small group of women were denied entry to the AGM of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI). At Dublin Castle last Saturday where the results of the referenda count were coming in we represented a growing number who are reasserting the rights of women.

The NWCI claimed that if the referenda were defeated it would mean that “A woman’s life is still ‘within the home’ in the Constitution.”

Other claims included “No means leaving unmarried families unrecognised,” ignoring the fact that a few weeks earlier the father as well as the children of a non-marital family were both recognised for the purposes of the widowers contributory pension in the O’Meara case.

Motherhood is not gender neutral. It was clearly insulting to women who make up 98 per cent of carers and 100 per cent of mothers to remove the recognition afforded to mothers from the Constitution. In fact the Constitution has 112 references to men or male pronouns and just six for women. If Art 41.2 had been deleted the number referring to women would have reduced to three.

Women never had a chance to give or withhold their consent to the self-id Gender Recognition Act

Already women have suffered the humiliation of seeing our name and its meaning erased since the Gender Recognition Act was passed in 2015 allowing men to obtain a “self-id” gender recognition certificate (GRC) such that if the preferred gender “is the female gender the person’s sex becomes that of a woman.” This Act is in direct conflict with the rights of women and girls to single-sex provision in changing rooms, school toilets, sports, prison and ignores safeguarding norms.

In the name of “inclusiveness” four years ago women saw the HSE’s Cervical Check public information address us as “anyone with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 65”. In images obtained under Freedom of Information the word “women” can be seen crossed out and replaced with “people” as web content relating to cervical cancer was edited to make it gender neutral. Under pressure from women this was changed in part to “women and people with a cervix”.

Women have seen men with GRCs sent to the Dublin Dóchas and Limerick women’s prisons; men purporting to be women playing in women’s sport and the attempted removal of the word “woman” from the 1994 Maternity Protection Act. And in both period products bills before the Oireachtas the words “woman”, “women”, “girl” and “girls” do not appear once.

Women never had a chance to give or withhold their consent to the self-id Gender Recognition Act and these referenda represented the first time voters had a chance to make their views known.

A recent Amárach poll repeats the findings of previous surveys and shows that 69% of mothers would prefer to stay at home with their children rather than go out to work if money was no issue.  A survey by a previous Minister for Children Katherine Zappone which sought the views of children in relation to childcare found that just 1% wanted to be in a crèche. The other 99% wanted to be with family or childminders after school, with the majority asking for care by parents.

So why remove the “direct obligation” on the State in Art 41.2.2 to support mothers, single or married, should they want to stay at home, even for a period, to mind their own children but feel unable to due to the economic necessity of going out to work? Indeed some have no choice as to whether they can work or not, such as the mother who is appealing to the Supreme Court next month.

This mother is caring full time for her severely disabled son and there isn’t anyone in this country who would begrudge her the full carer’s allowance, without it being means tested, not to speak of full supports including respite care or whatever she feels she needs. Instead of a new wording which might have guaranteed Constitutional support for such provision and one which would give the disabled autonomy regarding their needs there was a bid to remove “mothers” like this particular mother from being able to cite Art 41.2 in her appeal next month.

Figures from Census 2022 showed an 173 per cent increase in the number of people working from home compared to 2016

Women were also persuaded by Senator Michael McDowell’s compelling arguments as to the benefits of retaining Art 41.2 and how it is far from a “dead letter”. We learnt it had been cited in the 1980 Murphy tax case, influenced the payment of child benefit directly to mothers, provides more generous maintenance arrangements than in many other jurisdictions in marriage breakdown and was cited by former judges. Judge Geoffrey Shannon, when the Government’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, had also said that the removal of this clause in the Constitution could affect maintenance payments in family law cases.

Figures from Census 2022 showed an 173 per cent increase in the number of people working from home compared to 2016. Sen McDowell has pointed out that the present wording of Article 41.2 would give a strong argument to anybody who says they were being forced by their employer, and particularly by the State, to work in an office unreasonably when economic difficulty is imposed on them in looking after the children of the family.

But perhaps the most compelling argument was that of the late Mr Justice Brian Walsh who said that Art 41.2 ought to be retained “because it imposes an obligation on the State to do something in this particular area. There’s no point in relieving the State of an obligation which the Constitution imposes on it.”

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