Time to end the de­bate on nurs­ing moth­ers

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

The con­tro­versy over a woman nurs­ing her baby on a crowded Beijing sub­way shows many peo­ple are ig­no­rant of women’s breast­feed­ing rights. And breast­feed­ing in pub­lic is an is­sue that re­flects how much re­spect mem­bers of a so­ci­ety have for women.

Beijing Tale, a non-gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion, sparked con­tro­versy re­cently by say­ing breast­feed­ing on the sub­way was the same as “ex­pos­ing sex­ual or­gans”. But the breast is not a re­pro­duc­tive or­gan. If it were, it would cer­tainly be in­de­cent to ex­pose it in pub­lic. No civ­i­lized per­son would con­sider the breast a sex­ual or­gan when a woman is nurs­ing her baby. That some peo­ple per­ceive it oth­er­wise only ex­poses their dirty minds.

What should a lac­tat­ing mother do if she can­not find a se­cluded spot in a pub­lic place to nurse her baby? Let the child suf­fer un­til she reaches home? Let it cry and raise a fit?

The re­al­ity is that fe­wor­ga­ni­za­tions in China have ful­filled the re­spon­si­bil­ity of set­ting up mother-and-baby fa­cil­i­ties in pub­lic places. Even though the La­wof the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China on the Pro­tec­tion ofWomen’s Rights and In­ter­ests says work­places should have breast­feed­ing fa­cil­i­ties, very few­com­pa­nies, or­ga­ni­za­tions or in­sti­tu­tions have es­tab­lished them. To say that such neg­li­gence is dis­crim­i­na­tion against woman employees is an un­der­state­ment.

Lit­tle won­der then that women are forced to nurse their ba­bies in pub­lic. That so­ci­etal de­vel­op­ment has not reached the level re­quired to pro­tect the rights and in­ter­ests of women, means that pub­lic aware­ness is also want­ing when it comes to women’s rights and in­ter­ests. If, de­spite the ab­sence of pub­lic nurs­ing rooms, peo­ple con­sider breast­feed­ing to be a vi­o­la­tion of pub­lic pro­pri­ety, they only strengthen the be­lief that this is still a man’s world in which women are sec­ond­class cit­i­zens.

Over the past fewyears, some moth­ers have been gath­er­ing on Breast­feed­ing Day (May 20) to nurse their ba­bies in pub­lic to high­light the im­por­tance of breast­feed­ing.

Me­dia re­ports say the num­ber of breast­feed­ing moth­ers in China has fallen dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years, so it is im­por­tant that peo­ple re­al­ize that moth­ers shouldn’t be fur­ther dis­cour­aged from breast­feed­ing their ba­bies.

Since breast­feed­ing is a ne­ces­sity for child and mother both, a woman also has the right to de­cide where and when she should do so. That is to say, a woman can de­cide to nurse her baby in pub­lic even if a baby-care room is in the vicin­ity, be­cause do­ing so does not go against any so­cial norm or con­ven­tion, and should not em­bar­rass oth­ers. As for the es­tab­lish­ment of babycare fa­cil­i­ties in pub­lic places, th­ese should be in­cluded in fu­ture gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions. Whether such fa­cil­i­ties should be built de­mo­graph­i­cally or ge­o­graph­i­cally may be open to de­bate, but the fact that women have the right to nurse their ba­bies wher­ever they deem fit is not.

LouHuilan is a pro­fes­sor of women’s stud­ies at Chi­naWomen’s Univer­sity in Beijing. The ar­ti­cle is an ex­cerpt from her in­ter­view with China Daily’s Zhang Yuchen.

CAI MENG / CHINA DAILY

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