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  • Writer's pictureNiamh O'Reilly

Use Your Vote This Friday




Polling day for the upcoming referendum is Friday March 8. It’s also International Women’s Day and no doubt some political boffin somewhere said yes, lets hold this on International Women’s Day it will be a great day for women and what a photo opp, etc.


Yes, but it’s also a Friday and most polling stations are schools. I’m not a political expert here, but to me the math seems pretty obvious. Just who exactly will be the ones to have to take the day off work or juggle like a circus performer or make bits of themselves to look after the children who are not in school on polling day?


WOMEN. That’s who.


I took a straw poll of followers over on my Instagram page at the weekend about the upcoming referendum on March 8. I focussed on the so called ‘care’ article. The only thing that was clear was that most people are unclear about what way they will vote. (47% said they were undecided, 27% intended to vote yes and 22% said they will vote no. 4% said they would not vote.)


It's a really odd one to reason with in my own head. Before the wording was revealed and the referendum was debated in the citizens assembly, I was very much in favour of updating the constitution and removing outdated, sexist references to women’s “duties in the home.” However, once the wording was revealed, it left me and many other women wondering just what we are actually being asked to vote on?


To be clear, this is what we are being asked to vote on in the “care” referendum.


What the constitution currently states-

Article 41.2.1° “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.”


Article 41.2.2° “The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”


The proposal involves deleting Article 41.2.1° and Article 41.2.2° and inserting a new Article 42B, as shown below:


“The State recognises that the provision of care, by members of a family to one another by reason of the bonds that exist among them, gives to Society a support without which the common good cannot be achieved, and shall strive to support such provision.”

 

The constitution was drafted in 1937 by men and there’s no doubt in my mind that it was meant to underpin women’s place and her duties in the home, not outside it. It was a time when church and state were highly linked. At the time, John Charles McQuaid wrote a note later found in De Valera’s papers: “The feminists are getting angry and are moving into action," he wrote. "They seem stung by the suggestion that the normal place for a woman is the home.”


I’ve always hated the phrase about women neglecting their duties in the home. What about men’s duties? Why have they not been up in arms about their lack of representation in the constitution? As women, why are these duties in the home implied to fall on us?


My husband knows where the hoover is, he puts out the bins, he empties the dishwasher and we have sort of divided up household roles between us. But those things aside, I completely agree that it’s women and mothers still who end up doing the lions share of what I call in the invisible jobs, or the carry the mental load of the family.


I am very much the ‘default parent.’ I’m the one who is inevitably expected to drop everything if my child is sick. I love my two children deeply and enjoy caring for them and spending time with them. It is privilege, but I also work and it's not fair to expect me to carry the can all the time. As it stands, I'm the one who organises doctors appointments, vaccinations, keeps track of birthday invitations, school uniforms, after school activities, the right kit brought in on the right days for the right activities, homework, what their current likes/dislikes are, what TV shows they want to watch, the teddy they absolutely have to have in the car with them, the foods they are currently loving/hating and where exactly the red sauce goes on the plate to avoid a meltdown.


The CSO backs up what many of us already know to be true. Women are doing the lion’s share of the work at home (65% of women said they are mostly responsible for household chores compared to 9% men), but keeping the constitution as it is not the answer. Surely change is? This referendum is not going to solve the problems overnight, but it’s a visible indication of where we want things to go, that we do want things to be more equal. For any meaningful and equitable change to happen, it’s got to be backed up by state support programmes and legislation.


There was also research commissioned by the Iona institute to say that two thirds of women wanted to be at home with their children. This change in the constitution is not going to threaten that. Replacing the word mother with "members of a family" shouldn’t feel like an attack on motherhood. It should feel like an acknowledgement that fathers want to be more involved too or be stay at home parents. Again, real world supports for the women who do want to stay at home with their children full time, are the key to making this really achievable and I can understand people's fears that the phrase “Shall strive to support” sort of feels like a get out of jail free card for the state.


And this brings me to one aspect of the referendum that has complicated things. The role of careers and the impact on children with additional needs. Will this new wording place the provision of care disproportionally onto the family members and give the state that get out of jail free card, with it’s wishy washy “strive to support?” Let’s not forget that what’s currently there says that “mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour,” where the exact opposite is happening. The reality is that plenty of mothers wanted to stay at home with their young children and babies, but had no choice but to work to pay the bills. So, it’s no surprise that parents of children with additional needs are left wondering if the state will make good on the provision of “strive to support,” or will they place care back on family members?


Again, reassurance and commitments to make good on these aspirations would be welcome.


It feels as though wording is the real enemy here. And we all know words do matter.


Regardless of what way you intend to vote, I’d urge you to use your voice. Don’t stay silent on this. Chat to some women in your life, not just those who you always agree with, but ones who might have a different perspective, you never know where those insights might take you.


Polling day is March 8. You should have received your polling card in the post, but if not go to your local polling station with your ID. Once your name is on the register, you are still entitled to vote without it. Don't bring campaigning material into the polling centre with you, and no selfies either.

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