So, session two. Both of the issues up for discussion concern women in politics, though only one of them is of any real importance.
Role of Women
This one, to the best of knowledge, concerns Article 41 of the constitution (emphasis mine):
1. 1° The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.
2° The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.
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.
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.
So, this is one of the most maligned parts of the constitution, a section straight from the mouth of Archbishop McQuaid and 1930’s sentiment. It isn’t bad-minded or especially evil, it’s just condescending and pretty outdated in terms of modern society. The first bolded part indicates that the “common good” is best served by women staying out of the workforce and raising children while the men fulfil the role of “breadwinner”. That such a sentiment remains in a 2013 constitution is bad enough, but then it goes on to add that the state will do whatever it can to make sure that this state of affairs will remain in effect. That bit at least is somewhat positive – we’ll do whatever we can to make sure you don’t have to work – but, alas, the real world doesn’t work that way. In modern Ireland, women work, because they can, because they want to, because they want, or I suppose need, to share the burden in providing for a family.
So, this section of the article, hopelessly stuck in an era when the Church determined what was best for all of us and the government acquiesced, should go. You could even make an argument about the rest of the article, but at least that can be said to deal with family rights and responsibilities, something of far more importance than trying to keep one half of society in a subservient role to the other half. Yes, the amendment doesn’t say “A women’s place is in the home” definitively, but to paraphrase a quote from Futurama “it’s certainly thinking it loudly”. Bottom line: this section of the constitution is unnecessary and somewhat embarrassing in 2013.
I would be amazed if such a motion received anything less than wholesale support from the convention and from the political parties of the state.
Women in Politics
So, here’s the actual debatable one.
I’ve written on the issue of gender quotas a couple of time before (here and here). I’m not in favour of the idea, and I won’t rehash why, but I will say that, now that such a system is enshrined in Irish law (to an extent), the battle is done and it’s time to move forward within the framework of the new way of things.
I would not be in favour of enshrining any form of “quota” in the constitution, firstly because I am opposed to them myself, and secondly because it isn’t necessary. Quota’s can be put into electoral law without bothering the constitution, and there they can be more easily modified, withdrawn, extended, changed, removed, whatever. A referendum campaign on the issue of gender quotas would provide an interesting discussion, but a fractured one, and would have no guarantee of passing. The Dail has already proved open to the idea, so keep it in the legislature where there is a greater degree of freedom to work with that idea.
Of course, it would be better if the political parties of Ireland, like other nations did, used quotas internally on a voluntary basis which would help root out the core of the problem: sexist practise within the system, which few were willing to tackle, which has lead us to the current course.
Of course, even better still would be just a general shift in society to view women as more than just partners or mothers, but as equally suitable legislators as men, but I digress.
So, if I don’t want a quota based article, do I want anything put in that is related to women’s participation in politics? Or maybe just participation in general?
I’m honestly not sure. I can’t think of anything that I would consider important enough to put into the highest legal document of the state. The radical part of me would love to see an Australian style system where voting is a mandatory process barring serious exceptions, thereby ensuring that polls reflect the vast, vast majority of people, and forcing the population to take somewhat of an interest in the process. But such a system is unlikely to be accepted in Ireland.
Similarly, a sort of direct democracy system (the “townhall” or “local forum” system perhaps), at a very local level, could do wonders for getting people into politics, but would require a lot of change to that level of politics and could prove a serious detriment to the actual passing of legislature (will the mob ever vote in anything other than their best interest?) Such a system works in Switzerland apparently, but Switzerland is not Ireland, especially in terms of political tradition and culture.
Ultimately, getting more people to participate in politics in this country, be they men, women, young and old, depends far more on things outside of the constitutions immediate prevue. Education, in the form of a reformed CSPE subject combined with a lower voting age. Greater reach of media and parties in terms of politics, utilising social media to the fullest extent. And most importantly of all, a healthy example set by the legislature and politicians of the day, in terms of discourse, respect and positive political engagement with each other.
How likely do you think any of that is?
I’m not sure just what the convention is going to come up with for this issue, but whatever it is will probably divide people.