I’ve been studying Law for three years. The only difference this time around is that I’m doing it in Germany, not Ireland. And although there are many things that differentiate the two countries – efficient transport systems and an almost bilingual generation among them – the most striking contrast to me is their laws.
If you want to know about a country, have a look at those first.
What does this country find important enough to write down and bind every person “belonging to the state” (Staatsangehorigkeit auf Deutsch) to? How are people in society treated by the laws of the lands that belong to them? What do national constitutions as historical documents say about a country today?
The German constitution and statutes (of which there are many) are most importantly, penitent and phlegmatic. They refuse to let anything but rationale, reason and knowledge get in the way. People’s personal ideas and influences have failed the Germans before, and left a swastika shaped blot on the nation’s collective history. This is a country that knows its own brevity, and knows that although people and generations die, legislation lasts. It is only through the law that ideas will continue on into future generations.
The Ewigkeits Clause prevents anyone from removing the core clauses which protect and respect human rights. Nothing is left to chance, or more accurately, misconception. Every seemingly miniscule thing is accounted for, leaving no room for doubt or discretionary (mis)interpretation.
So what does this mean today, knowing all that we do?
The number one rule, metaphorically and literally, in the relatively modern German constitution is the preservation of human rights and dignity. A candour admission, contrite at the way German ancestors were treated at the hands of people who wrangled the correct meaning from statutes and manipulated them until they were wholly unrecognisable.[pullquote]The Ewigkeits Clause prevents anyone from removing the core clauses which protect and respect human rights and dignity. Nothing is left to chance, or more accurately, misinterpretation.[/pullquote]
Gender equality is legislated for. Discrimination against sex, race, ability, and religion is prohibited. It’s there in black and white, irrefutable, referenceable, proof.
No one is worth more or less in the eyes of the state. They leave nothing up to interpretation. The legislation reflects the idea of post-WW2 Germany as a disciplined, fair and strict state, and when it has to be, someone to turn to in times of crisis.
Initially the most striking thing about Bunreacht na hÉireann is its bold statement of Irish on one page, English on the other, homage to the difference between, and the importance of both in our country. The language barrier and difference is tolerable and a swell of nationalism arises when reading. However the indubitable miasma of misogyny is bilious at best and life threatening at worst.
Women are not fairly accounted for. Most notably, the constitution goes so far as to condescendingly suggest that women are of more use at home. A binding reminder that the state would prefer it if you became a mother; any other occupation is a mere foot note to the main plot of your life. Try telling that to Mary Robinson or Mary McAleese.
Up until 1990 marital rape was legal in Ireland meaning that your ability to consent to sex depended on if you were married or not. If your spouse wanted sex, you had sex. Simple as. So we should now be grateful that a few legal minutes of sex that you didn’t want has now been confined to just a pregnancy that you may not want. Like the marital rape of then, you can’t say no to pregnancy today. But hey, it could have been both. [pullquote]However the indubitable miasma of misogyny in the Irish constitution is bilious at best and life threatening at worst.[/pullquote]
The eighth amendment places the right to life of a grown woman, in equal tandem with a foetus she may not want. Her reasons for not wanting to be pregnant are varied, individual and most importantly none of our damn business. Maybe she can’t afford to give a baby the life it deserves. Maybe she isn’t emotionally able for children. Maybe the foetus came about as a result of rape. Maybe this was done at the hands of a family member. Maybe being pregnant would literally kill her.
So what does this say today, knowing all we do?
It says that religion and a “Christian [and democratic] nature of State” continue to instruct the Irish about how to govern an increasingly diverse country. The faith based platform of a religion – that not everyone believes in – is acting as the law. We wouldn’t have a priest giving instructions in a court room, so why do it on paper? No matter your religious standing, or lack thereof, it says an exorbitant amount about a country that we don’t trust women to make decisions about their own lives. The silence of tacitly accepting and trusting in an institution that caters for a specific type of person screams out as a violation to anyone who doesn’t fit into it.
The repeal the 8th campaign is important to every citizen in Ireland. The revolution continues, a centenary later, both sides are out and ready to use their voices for causes they believe in. The fighting Irish are still not content to sit on their laurels and be thankful that things aren’t worse. We know that we are deserving of better, that we shouldn’t have to follow the rules of people who aren’t entitled to make them.[pullquote]We know that we shouldn’t have to follow the rules of people who aren’t entitled to make them.[/pullquote]
Maybe it’s a coincidence, and maybe there is no correlation, but it’s interesting that in a decade where, in Ireland, there are now more female lawyers than male, that the pro-choice movement has risen in awareness and momentum.
It seems as though we are on the cusp of a wave of change. Women will not accept these asinine limitations any longer. The inveterate Old Boy’s Club of the legal industry has no choice but to be overturned, and hopefully the Constitution will follow, because I don’t think a Chief Justice, Director of Public Prosecutions or Attorney General would appreciate being told that it would be better off if she wasn’t there.