Time to end the debate on nursing mothers
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.