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Vancouver Sun shames woman for breastfeeding in public

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“Would [the store owner] rather have a child screaming and crying? Then [someone] would probably complain the mother was neglecting the child,” Christine Ash from the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development, said.

“The store has to try and accommodate [the nursing mother]... a reasonable accommodation,” Durling said. In other words, the store doesn’t have to build a special nursing mothers' room, but they also can’t insist that she hide away in the bathroom.

Interestingly, the Attorney General’s Human Rights in British Columbia, Sexual Discrimination and Harassment that describes what kind of discrimination is illegal also says the law “protects people against discrimination in printed publications.” [Have you read the Human Rights Act, Vancouver Sun?]

“Breastfeeding is an important human right,” the Health Ministry of B.C. reminded me. It is also a health issue.  And an issue of what kind of society we want to create. 

Breastfeeding is hard work. Michelle Stewart, the Communications Director at the Ministry of Health Services, states that the Ministry is “strongly favorable of breastfeeding” and reiterates its importance to the health of mothers and babies.  Health Canada has littered their website with information on the importance of breastfeeding. They strongly promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life, with continued breastfeeding up to two years and beyond. Breastfeeding has been demonstrated to do everything from decrease incidence of respiratory disease to increase the I.Q. of breastfed children. It also contributes to a woman’s health by offering protection against multiple forms of cancer.

For these reasons and more, breastfeeding saves money—studies suggest that the healthcare savings for countries like the U.S. and Australia (and presumably Canada) of increased breastfeeding would be in the billions. Moms who do breastfeed should be commended and are by the World Health Organization, Health Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Health.

Indeed, breastfeeding is thought to be so important that it is considered a Human Right: in B.C., in Canada as a whole and by the World Health Organization of the United Nations.

It is “not the same at all” as someone deciding to run naked through a playground Durling said. “We value children,” he said, “and we place a high value on protecting pregnant women and we put a high value on mothers. The Supreme Court has recognized breastfeeding is a fundamental right.”

He continued: “Running naked through a playground is not a fundamental right. Neither is wearing your bathing suit and running through a courtroom. Protecting mothers and their essential need to feed their children is.”

Other women, by such mundane acts as taking a seat on a bus, or in the “whites-only” section of a theatre, or applying to work as a firefighter, have changed our idea of what is socially appropriate and helped us to understand that certain rights should be unalienable to all humans. No doubt many of them received a public shaming rather than a public "thank you" for their efforts.

Shame on you Vancouver Sun for condemning a woman doing such important work.

It’s kind of like telling your old grandmother that her hat is ugly after she tells you she was denied a seat at the lunch counter because of her colour, was fired from her job because of her age and was evicted from her apartment because of her sex.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

Manda Aufochs Gillespie, a.k.a. The Green Mama,  writes about issues of health, environment and—now— human rights. Learn more about The Green Mama at www.thegreenmama.com.

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