Constitutional Referendum on Women and Family Overwhelmingly Rejected by Irish Voters

Constitutional Referendum on Women and Family Overwhelmingly Rejected by Irish Voters
Protestors asking Irish voters to refuse proposed amendments to the constitution ahead of the referendum in Dublin, Ireland © Simon Roughneen via Shutterstock, March 14 2024


Oona Carteron

Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence


The Irish population overwhelmingly rejected a government proposition to alter the 1937 Constitution of the Republic of Ireland. The aim of this proposal was to modernise the backwards mentions of and wording referring to women and family in the Constitution inherited from the Catholic Church's long and powerful influence on public and private life. This comes as a hard-blow to women’s rights movements not only in Ireland but all of Europe. The propositions were neither groundbreaking nor particularly radical but stemmed from a willingness to amend the Constitution to better reflect the evolving societal views on gender equality and women's rights. Government detractors argued that the referendum’s failure is the result of a lack of clarity in the text’s formulation which sparked very little enthusiasm with a participation rate not exceeding 50% in most constituencies. [1]


The amendment proposals targeted 2 articles of the constitution in particular which have historically reinforced traditional gender roles, often placing women in the position of caretakers and homemakers. The first is Article 41, which pertains to the family. It states that 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 first amendment suggested to broaden the definition to include “lasting relationships”, that is to say non-traditional marriages instead of “the institution of marriage”. The second amendment sought to delete outdated references to the role of women as caregivers by regarding the family as a unit where everyone has a duty to care for others. [3] The first amendment was rejected with 67.7 percent of the people voting “no”, and the second with 73.9 percent.  [4]

This portrayal greatly affects women's rights by perpetuating societal expectations regarding their roles within the family, potentially limiting their opportunities for economic independence and equal participation in public life. While these may appear as innocuous and trivial semantics debates, the Constitution’s wording carries implicit assumptions about gender roles within the family, positioning women as primarily responsible for caregiving and domestic duties which hinders women’s rights and gender equality.  The language used in the Constitution fails to recognise the diversity of family structures and relationships, excluding non-traditional family arrangements from constitutional protection such as LGBTQI+ couples for instance. This exclusion marginalises individuals who do not conform to traditional gender or gender roles, further perpetuating discrimination and inequality based on gender identity and expression.

This event illustrates the clear lack of willingness by politics and society alike to make even the slightest changes to work towards gender equality. This further shows the power that the people can hold in today’s society and just how much a poorly explained referendum can lead to great setbacks, as proved from Brexit to women’s rights. 

Sources and further readings:


 [1] Le Monde, (2024, March 9). En Irlande rejet de la réforme visant à moderniser les références à la femme et à la famille dans la Constitution, Le Monde avec AFP, Consulted on March 14, 2024 


[2]  Constitution of Ireland, Article 41 in Irish Statute Book, Consulted on March 14, 2024

[3] Webber J. (2024, March 9). Irish voters reject constitutional referendums on women and the family, Financial Times, Consulted on March 14, 2024 


[4] BBC, (2024, March 9). Irish referendums: Voters reject changes to family and care definition, BBC,  Consulted on March 14, 2024