I was saddened to read some recent news articles (here and here) that described a young mother in Auckland being kicked off the bus for breastfeeding her child. My heart goes out to this woman and her child.
As someone who will soon be a parent myself, I was saddened to find this is still a problem for two reasons. First, medical evidence indicates that on-demand breastfeeding of infants is beneficial. Second, people have — according to the Ministry of Health — the right to breastfeed “… your baby anywhere, any time and any place.”
The situation also underscores the merits of Emma’s recent post, which considered the benefits of designing cities for women. As this situation demonstrates, our individual experiences of cities are systematically influenced by one’s gender. The systematic nature of these issues means I do have some sympathy for the bus driver involved, who apparently was not prepared for such a situation. I suspect many of us might make the same mistake if we were put in a similar situation. And that is what this post hopes to help change.
What was heartening to see, in this particular instance, was the responses not just from breastfeeding groups, such as this one, but also the organisations involved. AT Metro’s service delivery manager Stacey Van Der Putten, for example, commented as follows:
“We strive for our services and facilities to be family-friendly … AT does not have specific policy about breastfeeding on public transport, but we will be reinforcing with all our operators that we strongly support a woman’s right to breastfeed on public transport or in any of our facilities.”
Again, the use of the phrase “right to feed”. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for NZ Bus issued the following statement, which includes an apology (source):
“We’ve reminded all our drivers that NZ Bus is supportive of mothers wishing to breastfeed on board our services and will reinforce this message through our driver training programmes. NZ Bus apologises for the distress [the] incident caused Ms Deane and her baby.”
This is a decent statement. The only thing I would change is to replace “… mothers wishing to ..” with “… mothers’ right to …”. We’re not supporting people’s wishes to breastfeed, insofar as we’re recognising their right.
So what’s the takeaway message from all this? Well, notwithstanding the unfortunate nature of the incident, I think we should acknowledge the empathetic response from both AT and NZ Bus, and support their efforts to remind drivers about people’s right to breastfeed.
The main outstanding task, then, is one that falls to all of us: If you ever witness a situation where a person is asked to stop breastfeeding in public, then please speak-up in defence of their rights.
In the words of John Farnham:
“We’re all someone’s daughter, we’re all someone’s son … You’re the voice try and understood it, make a noise and make it clear. We’re not going to sit in silence, we’re not going to live in fear.”