I’ll just take my monthly woman’s allowance and be on my way

When Ireland became a free state in 1922, nobody was really free at all. An old college lecturer of mine used to say that throughout history,
 women’s issues have only been addressed after everything else, forever as the last priority.

The suffragettes who had supported various Home Rule bills and plays for independence from the UK did so because they were promised political equality. In an unsurprising turn of events, this equality was refused to them after the fact. The Irish Constitution was written in 1937, and since then women were promised things that were always to be addressed later. Now, in 2017, Ireland is finally talking about addressing an article in our constitution that outlines the woman’s place as being in the home.

The Irish Free State was born to a government that was, whether the current administration admits it or not, ruled by Catholicism, making the rights and freedom of anyone but straight men virtually non-existent, and although social changes were gradual, legal changes only began within the last 20 years. That means that up until the mid-1990s, homosexuality was criminalised, divorce was illegal, unmarried mothers could be sent to Magdalene Laundries, it was unacceptable to ‘live in sin’, and beyond. These changes have been put on the back burner and legalised only as that hefty Catholicism left the country. Even now, the late correcting of these laws doesn’t seem like a big deal to the vast majority of people, as though the social change was enough and women don’t need any recognition.

When I was in school, learning Irish histories like this and being too young to appreciate their significance, my teacher told me that when she signed her contract for her job, she could still see a sentence in there from previous years that stated a law about her having to give up any public sector job after marriage. The marriage bar was removed from Irish law in 1973, and yet apparently public sector working women can’t have the dignity of this being removed completely from their contracts – instead the line is there and just crossed out. Like with a biro.

Who knows, maybe they leave things like that in there to remind us how far we’ve supposedly come. Maybe that’s why no one in the right position of power has ever bothered to hold a referendum on the article stating that my only value is in the home with the children I may or may not someday have. The most infuriating thing is that half of the people who I say this to will tell me to calm down, it doesn’t mean anything - after all, it’s not like it’s written anywhere important or binding like in the NATIONAL CONSTITUTION.

Oh, wait.

You have to wonder, if this constitutional article doesn’t mean anything and can just be ignored, why can we not just choose which constitutional articles to ignore and which ones to follow? Why do we have a constitution, and why does it have any significance at all?

And on the flip side of that, if the constitution is binding, and the state has to live by it, then why am I – as a working women – not made to quit my job and given some monthly woman’s allowance by the state to just spend my life at home watching daytime television and debating whether or not to get a cat?

The most messed up thing is that even after all of the social and legal changes, it doesn’t feel much like Ireland has changed in its attitude or its ethos. Sometimes I think that I surround myself with an Irish bubble of people with the same progressive opinions as myself and forget to take myself out of that bubble to the larger population, many of whom are still conservative and held back by catholic views. I won’t be living in Ireland when the referendum on women’s place in the home is held, and that honestly worries me. It may not even happen within the next decade – and I still find myself googling the ways in which I can vote from abroad. Because, when it comes down to it, it’s not a guarantee that the people of Ireland will repeal this article. With the marriage referendum in 2015, a significant percentage voted no. When it comes to any kind of social justice in Ireland, nothing is a given, and every vote counts.