ACT parliament improves its mother-friendliness

[Image credit: The Age, “Charlotte Makes a Meal of Question Time“]

Cheers to the ACT parliament for becoming the first parliament in Australia to get Australian Breastfeeding Association accreditation as a breastfeeding-friendly workplace, as reported in IBN News.

The ABA accreditation standards can be found here. What this means is that now ACT parliamentary members and staff will have access to flexible breaks to breastfeed or express milk, clean and appropriate facilities to express and store milk, and information on these facilities provided to female employees. They may also have access to the “optional criteria” of flexi-time/job-sharing options, on-site childcare, parking for carers to bring children to the workplace, and further information and referrals.

I find it rather strange that the criteria don’t include processes to educate other employees about breastfeeding, and procedures to deal with those who create a hostile environment breastfeeding mothers, be the mothers employees or guests in the workplace. These issues are (somewhat inadequately) covered elsewhere, but I hoped that specific inclusion in a breastfeeding-friendly workplace standard might bring them to the fore.

Several parliaments, including the ACT Legislative Assembly, decided in 2003 to begin allowing breastfeeding in the Parliamentary chamber. This change occurred after the incident in which ALP MP Kirstie Marshall was ejected from the Victorian State parliament floor for breastfeeding her daughter. Twelve-day-old Charlotte was considered a “stranger in the house” under standing orders at the time. At the time, Liberal minister Amanda Vanstone had a dig at Marshall, saying that she pitied her baby for being fed in “a noisy and testosterone-filled televised parliamentary debate”. As always, women are expected to confine themselves, to avoid public life dominated by aggressive men, rather than men being expected to act like decent human beings – regardless of whether there is or isn’t an infant present!

The “Your Say” section in the Age at the time of the Marshall incident was revealing. Some of the negative comments from the public included:

“It’s a house of Parliament, it’s not a place for girls to be pulling out their breasts!”

“There are some things that should be kept private, one of them is breastfeeding.”

“What a joke! Either this woman wants to be a mother or she wants to be a person representing other Vics in Parliament.”

“Kirstie has chosen a life in politics – she is there to ensure that the people that elected her are represented. If she wanted a family life, then she should not have entered politics.”

“It’s a lovely natural activity, as one of nine kids I saw plenty of it early on and have seen plenty of happy suckers since, but there’s a time and place for everything and breastfeeding is also a distraction in an active, thinking environment such as parliament.”

And Premier Steve Bracks? The West Australian reported:

“Premier Steve Bracks said a room had been set aside close to the chamber for Ms Marshall to feed Charlotte. He said he supported family-friendly reforms to parliament, but a line had to be drawn somewhere.”

Anyhow, cheers to the ACT Parliament. May more workplaces make the effort to become formally breastfeeding-friendly, and may they go beyond the “essential” criteria and become genuinely misogyny-free in all aspects.

Categories: culture wars, gender & feminism, health, Politics

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3 replies

  1. Good to see some advance. I remember Kirsty Marshall, as I was breastfeeding at the time.
    I think that the easier you make it for employers to accredit as breastfeeding-friendly workplaces, the better. Rather than add on extra requirements for education, encourage creative thinking around private spaces, to help more and more places be breastfeeding friendly.
    I’d rather have more employers thinking how easy it is to accredit, and have more and more employers do it. That way the education will happen from the employees.
    If you make it harder to accredit, fewer employers will bother, which (I think) will ultimately be to the detriment of breastfeeding, working mothers.

  2. Jennifer, I totally agree. I think a tiered system might be a great idea – make a quite easy entry-level Then put in higher levels of accreditation to aspire to, and for employees to advocate for.
    That way there is something to get employers over the “hump” of contemplating such a revolutionary thing as acknowledging their women workers. But something also to stop them thinking that they’ve done all they can just by providing thirty minutes of break time, while maintaining tacit support for other forms of harassment and intimidation. Some of the comments pumping mums are subjected to in workplaces are absolutely disgusting.


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