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We might hope and imagine that it is different but our experience as a group of women and families for whom ‘it went wrong’ is that Ireland in the 2020s is still as systemically unwilling to treat women as equals as it was in supposedly darker times past.

The Constitution is the State’s contract with its citizens, setting out the basic terms and conditions that apply in the operation of our society. It sits there as the baseline for the way the country works.

For women, that is why a vote for change – a YES vote, on both parts of next week’s referendum, is essential.

As polling day approaches, there is a lot yet for voters to understand around the proposals for change in the constitution.

From a distance the changes proposed seem simple.

The case for the removal of the archaic reference to a woman’s place in society shouldn’t take much selling.

Equally the ask that we give recognition to family structures that already exist and are a positive part of life in modern Ireland shouldn’t be that difficult.

The reality, it seems, is quite different. For a variety of reasons, the day could easily be lost. There are a number of standpoints in opposition.

  • There are those who believe in the status quo, some for ideological or faith inspired reasons.
  • Others that see this through a more pragmatic lens around the potential impact on the rights and the means of individuals. And…
  • There are those on the other side of the argument who don’t think that the proposed wording is strong enough – that it doesn’t go far enough.
  • Finally, there are those that genuinely don’t understand or are not motivated either way and are likely not to vote at all.

Those explicitly against a vote for change will highlight points of detail that back their case – specific words that are either in, or not in, the proposed amendments that in their view are not precise, or detailed, enough.

Voltaire said “Perfect is the enemy of the good”.  This referendum is not about perfecting the detail – it is about establishing a point of principle, it is about moving the needle unequivocally in a direction that facilitates change.

At the heart of that principle is how we talk about and with women in society, and what that leads to.

It is about the language that is used. Language matters, a lot. Our CervicalCheck experience was about more than just communication, but communication was a large part of it – communication that didn’t treat women as partners in their own care. Ultimately our experience was of a system that felt it was OK to talk down to women.

A society whose constitution predicates a limited role for women in society will allow that to happen, unconsciously. That is why we must change it.

This referendum is not about us, or about healthcare or about reparation for those impacted by specific events of the past.  But what happened to us is the kind of thing that happens when there is a frame of reference that doesn’t say otherwise. 

This is what can happen when your contract with the State doesn’t see all its citizens equally.

In 221+ we are strongly supporting a vote for YES to BOTH amendments. That is based on our lived experiences that without changing the contract, the way that we do things around here won’t change.

We acknowledge that some advocates will want to go further but as it is, the Constitution anchors a deeply entrenched patriarchy into Irish Society. Leaving it unedited now will not encourage faster change in future.

Changing the constitution reflects the Ireland of today. It resets the baseline and represents a critical step forward.

It is a step that we should take with intent.

221+ Steering Group, March 2024