What changes would women make to the Constitution? Here’s what 10 said

Ahead of two referendums next month, a migrant rights campaigner, housing activist, law professor, principal, first-time voter and others suggest amendments to make women’s lives better

On March 8th, Irish citizens will vote on whether to remove the constitutional reference to the role of women in the home and expand the concept of the family within the Constitution. But, if Irish women had the chance to make more changes to Bunreacht na hÉireann, and add new clauses to improve women’s rights in this country, what would they add?

We spoke to 10 women across the State to hear what issues and clauses they would add to the Irish Constitution to make women’s lives better.

Julie Morrissy, poet, academic and activist

My ambition would be that the Constitution becomes a more radically inclusive document representative of all of Irish society. As the founding document of the State, we can’t overstate its importance from start to end. But, the Constitution is inherently exclusionary in the way it’s written, all the way through.

One of my issues with the Constitution is the language defaults to male gender pronouns, which means all positions of power in the Constitution are gendered male. I’ve made an entire project about this but one specific poem begins by listing the positions that are gendered male, including: taoiseach, president, attorney general and chairman of Dáil Éireann.


I think having such a narrow representation of gender in the Constitution impacts the way we imagine ourselves in society and the roles that we can play. And women have been really underrepresented in Irish politics throughout the history of the State.

I also want to talk about inclusivity, not only for women, but across the board for all genders – people who identify within the binary and people who use they pronouns.

There has been such a history of the marginalisation, exclusion and oppression of women in our society so I’m trying to think about the Constitution as an opportunity to make our society more inclusive across the board. The Constitution is kind of a aspirational document by nature. So, what are the issues we want to be hopeful and ambitious about for the next 100 years?

Teresa Buczkowska, migrant rights campaigner

What would I change about the Irish Constitution? The answer is simple, voting rights. There have been so many crucial elections in recent years that affected the lives of migrant women who cannot participate or vote.

During the abortion rights referendum, people elevated Savita Halappanavar to symbolise the campaign. But other migrant women like Savita were not able to voice their opinion during that referendum. That had a huge impact and that impact still exists because some migrant women still face barriers in accessing abortion services in Ireland.

Now, some political candidates are running campaigns on that anti-immigrant agenda. And yet, migrant women cannot participate in the general election when some of these people will be making decisions about their futures.

The whole question of gender equality and progress in women’s rights doesn’t acknowledge migrant women. The rights our grandmothers fought for, the right to work, is still not a reality for migrant women. We now have a group of migrant women in Ireland (stamp three holders) who are forbidden from working here and their legal status is tied to their spouse. So, for some migrant women, being the property of a man is a still a reality in Ireland.

It’s really important women can voice their opinion on issues that are directly impacting on their lives. Voting is an issue of democracy, not citizenship. And it’s about recognising that every person living in democracy should have a way of adding to the conversation about their future.

Rita Fagan, community housing activist

I believe a right to housing has to be inserted as a common good in the Constitution to make women’s lives better. If you’re talking about women in the home, but you have women living in hotels or in cars or in other people’s homes, that doesn’t guarantee women anything. A home is a necessity, it’s a human right.

Whether people want to own a home is another thing. But, to have homes to live in, that should be a constitutional right. It’s a duty of the State to provide a living space for people, a guarantee to have a roof over your head.

Finland, Belgium, Portugal and Sweden all include the right to housing in their constitutions. But they’re not going to include it here because of the market and there’s money to be made on the market.

It comes back to our proclamation and equality for all. Because if human rights are about the right to live, the right to eat, the right to have health, the right to be educated, the right to a home, then surely that should be reflected in the Constitution.

You have education in the Constitution, you have religion in the Constitution, you have the family in the Constitution, you have private property in the Constitution, but you don’t have the right to a home. If we argue for human rights and we argue for women’s rights, we need this clause in the Constitution.

Prof Louise Crowley, University College Cork school of law, director of UCC’s Bystander Intervention Programme

The threat to our safety and wellbeing is a fundamental threat to the livelihoods of all citizens. But it unquestionably affects women the most and impacts on their capacity to participate fully in many aspects of life.

It is simply unacceptable that more than 50 per of Irish society live in fear, and that’s not an exaggeration. Whether they’re 12 or 80, girls and women live in fear.

A lot of frontline personnel who deal with women and trauma are never considered for training nor do our laws recognise the unique vulnerability of women in many instances. And in turn, we need to enhance criminal justice provisions with real sentences so our laws, and the way in which they’re implemented, also reflect the impact of these heinous crimes on women on a daily basis.

We also need a clause that says: the State should pledge to protect the lives of all citizens to live free from harm and threats of harm and commits through its laws to protect and vindicate these rights in line with the common good.

On broader inequalities, the State should pledge to advance the rights of all citizens to enable their full participation in Irish society, irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation or disability. It might mean paying for childcare to allow women to go to work and also mandatory education, national campaigns and appropriate legal supports. But, I think that would be really profound.

Mamobo Ogoro, social psychologist and chief executive of GORM Media

We need a reference in the Constitution that relates to how migrant communities and local communities engage across lines of differences. I think the recent protests, and the Dublin riots, are the result of years of a lack of intercultural work between local communities and, quote-unquote, new communities in Ireland. What’s missing in Ireland’s equality conversation is positive engagement despite differences – not just for migrant communities but people with any sort of differences.

It’s about showing the humanity of communities that are othered, not only when it comes to gender but in a non-binary sense and different sexualities as well.

I sit on the European advisory panel for the Democracy and Belonging Forum at the University of California, Berkley, and in our organisation we follow the principle of radical belonging. All that starts with building bridges. And the onus is on those in power to create those bridges so communities can positively engage with each other. And right now, in Ireland, those bridges are not there.

It’s about creating a new space that has parts of me and parts of you. Creating that space doesn’t mean losing our cultural heritage, it doesn’t mean losing our Irish identity. It’s adopting and incorporating facets of people with different identities – it’s a more nuanced idea of Irishness.

Building a bridge doesn’t mean losing your heritage. It’s having an understanding of people and cultures are different from your own and creating space for those differences to exist and thrive as well.

Niamh Murray, principal of Rutland National School in Dublin’s northeast inner city

Regulation of social media should be included in today’s Constitution. When I think of the girls in my care, and speaking for those younger people, we need to make social media a less central feature of their lives. I’m seeing children living their lives through it. Their lives are mediated by social media.

For children and young girls, the natural progression as they grow older is they move away from their family, their parents and siblings, and towards their peer group. And that group of friends becomes more influential as a girl becomes a teenager. But the meaning of the peer group has changed because of what and who they’re exposed to online. And that’s totally changed the concept of role models.

I’m seeing sixth-class girls talking about skincare routine and that should not be a feature of their age group because they’re too young, they should still be enjoying their childhood. Social media has evolved so fast, I don’t think we fully realise the extent of the impact on children.

I also think the Constitution should highlight the importance of mixed-gender schools. I know a teacher who works in a school with a very similar demographic to where I work, but it’s all girls. And she says there’s more anxiety in that all-female setting. When the two sexes are together it’s more reflective of reality and the outside world, it’s a healthier environment for children. We still have that historical legacy of single-sex schools, but that should change.

Saoirse Exton, first-time voter and member of UN youth advisory group on climate change

We have to ensure when we talk about women’s rights and feminism that we include trans women in that conversation, and their right to express their identity. The discussion around trans rights is increasingly becoming an issue in this country. I’ve had [peers] talk to me about how trans people are non-existent or disgusting in general. The majority of this comes from social media, which just distracts from real issues in the world like what’s happening in Palestine or the climate crisis.

The Constitution should include a clause that gives you the right to express yourself. People in Ireland should also have the right to exist without discrimination and should have access to healthcare that will improve their quality of life without based on predetermined ideas of what the “right” gender is.

I’d like the Constitution to include a reference to trans people, but generally speaking we should have a country free from barriers that stop people from being able to express themselves.

On March 8th, I’ll be voting for the first time in my life. For most of my life my parents have taken me with them to vote so I’m familiar with the process. But being able to cast my own vote is very exciting. One of the big issues with being a youth activist is you don’t actually have electoral power. There has been lots of debate over the years about lowering the voting age and I believe that should happen. We have opinions too.

Amanda Nyoni, new Irish citizen and community development worker

I think we need a reference to mental healthcare, particularly for migrant women, in the Constitution.

Every migrant woman I know, including myself, has suffered from depression while going through the asylum system. There’s a certain atmosphere and climate that breaks you to your very core. I see women whose kids are back home and that separation is so difficult.

I was lucky enough to get a therapist and someone offered to pay for my sessions. But there are so many women in the system who don’t have that support.

I’ve lived in Ireland for four years now and became an Irish citizen in December. So I’ll be voting for the first time in March.

We also need more diversity within the mental health system. When I used to go for check-ups, there was such a lack of empathy from doctors. My GP also referred me to counselling services but she didn’t know how to deal with a woman who had experienced trauma.

There’s this view that you need to suck it up because life does not care for victim mentality. But you’re carrying this weight, and trying to keep going and just hoping you don’t crash.

There’s also the loneliness of being a single migrant woman and the lack of privacy in the system. You become so institutionalised so moving on, literally starting back over again, the anxiety of that is real. That’s why we need more mental health supports.

Niamh O’Donnell, director of the Irish Theatre Institute

When you look at the world, and see how many countries are moving backwards in relation to women’s rights, and the protection of women’s rights, you realise now is the time for us to have a Constitution that is really ambitious. A Constitution that won’t allow for that slippage and fully reflects our values. We need a document that reflects modern Ireland.

Our Constitution is a good foundational document that clearly outlines our rights and has a system of accountability. And, the work that has been done to modernise it has been really positive. But for me, diversity of gender, ethnicity, disability and the role of privilege and power isn’t included, and that is something that’s really lacking. Women and men are all citizens and how we’re valued in society shouldn’t be about our biology or sexuality. To be a truly democratic society, everyone has to be included in the system.

Our references to gender in the Constitution are really outdated. I also feel very uncomfortable about the religious references in the document and I don’t think they’re a positive thing for women. It doesn’t reflect the kind of democracy and the kind of nation that I consider myself to be part of. I think now is the time to reflect on who we really are. This feels like really good opportunity for us to get that right.

Razan Ibraheem, journalist and activist

Free childcare is essential for women’s prosperity and progression and should be included in the Constitution. It should be a right for every woman in Ireland to have access to free childcare and have their work and careers better recognised and respected. If not, childcare duties will always fall on the women, rather than the men.

Equal pay and ending the pay gap between men and women in this country also needs to be acknowledged in the Constitution. In my 12 years living in Ireland, I’ve worked with Irish women on many issues and I’m always inspired by them. They deserve to have complete equality in everything.

Housing should also be a human right in this country and written into the Constitution. Women, in particular, face inequality and discrimination when it comes to housing, so a right to adequate housing is a central component to women’s rights and equality. Women earn less money, they work part-time, their maternity leave is generally longer than what men take off and that affects affordability of housing for them. That is why, if we had housing as a human right in the Constitution, it would benefit everyone in society, but in particular, women.

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Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast