Tag Archives: Sydney Institute

Why Constitutions Matter to Women: notes on speech by Helen Irving

This evening I attended Gerard Henderson‘s Sydney Institute to hear Helen Irving speak on “Why Constitutions Matter to Women”, which articulated concerns raised in her book (publication pending in Australia) Gender and the Constitution: Equity and Agency in Comparative Constitutional Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.)

In her speech (which seemed to this observer bereft of argumentation), Dr Irving posited that constitutional enactment of measures designed to enshrine substantive (rather than merely formal) gender equality is imperative to those who favour such substantive gender equality. Dr Irving alluded to certain clauses [1] in the Australian Constitution which she posited were framed either with the interest of certain women in mind, or in which some measure of feminine influence was crucial, before briefly surveying certain aspects of the interaction between customary law and gender equality in South Africa.

I asked for her criteria whereby postulated ideals of substantive gender equality were to be assigned to a position within a constitutive (as distinct from subordinate) legal instrument, to which I was told that the scope of my question was too broad to be answered succinctly, whereupon I was entreated to purchase her book.

Gerard Henderson asked for an exposition of her views on the interaction between certain militant variants of Islamist thought and her project to constitutionally enshrine gender equality, and I’m afraid I can’t quite recall what her answer to his question was (or, for that matter, what other questions and answers were raised this evening in public discussion.)

All in all, I enjoyed the evening (especially the quiches.) It’s a pity time was so constrained, though.

[1] Namely §§ 41 and 113 thereof.

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