Next Referendum in Ireland Will Decide Whether a Woman's Place Is in the Home

A new referendum looms for Ireland, one that once again will bring women's rights to the front of the discussion. Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan is keen to go the polls in October to vote on another controversial element of the Irish Constitution, Article 41.2, which describes women's place as being in the home.

The Irish government, led by Leo Varadkar, the country's first openly gay prime minister, is finalizing preparation for the referendum, which will propose either removing or changing the clause, according to the Irish Sunday Business Post news outlet.

Ireland made the historic decision to legalize abortion in the country following a referendum on Friday. That has galvanized women's rights advocates to push for similar changes in neighboring Northern Ireland, a constituent part of the U.K., which has stricter abortion laws compared with the rest of the country. But despite the "North is next" signs seen at the celebration of the referendum result in Dublin on Saturday, citizens of the Republic of Ireland will once again have to decide on whether to change their own constitution—which can only be amended by popular vote.

The controversial article currently states: "In particular, the State recognizes that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

It continues: "The State shall, therefore, endeavor to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of their duties in the home."

Unlike the 8th Amendment, which banned abortion and which was introduced via a referendum 35 years ago, Article 41.2 has been part of the Irish Constitution since it was first adopted via plebiscite in 1937. The provision was necessary at the time since women were barred from holding a job after they got married—a ban that was introduced in 1933 as a response to high unemployment, as Irish media noted. But as the ban on married women's employment was lifted in 1973, Article 41.2 looks increasingly anachronistic and sexist.

People celebrate the official result of the Irish abortion referendum, which showed a landslide decision in favor of repealing the constitutional ban on abortions, at Dublin Castle, in Dublin, on May 26. Ireland’s justice minister wants the next referendum to be about an article in the constitution describing a woman’s place as in the home. Barry Cronin/AFP/Getty Images

"The article is completely outdated and doesn't reflect the society we have or want. It's the symbolic nature of it. The Constitution should be about espousing the qualities and values we want. It is in the background on many policies and attitudes in society," Orla O'Connor from the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) told Ireland's The Journal publication last year.

Several national and international organizations focusing on human rights, such as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have called on the government to amend or remove the provision in the past few years. Ireland's Constitutional Convention recommended the article should be made gender neutral to include other careers both "in the home" and "beyond the home," The Irish Times reported.

Article 41.2 is not the only part of the constitution that Irish voters face in the ballots—the Irish government will now seek to combine that referendum with a vote on another controversial issue, amending Article 40.6.1 criminalizing blasphemy. Ireland is also expected to hold more votes between this year and the next on issues such as whether to have directly held mayors, reduce divorce terms, extend voting rights to emigrants and reduce the voting age to 16.