CentreForum Liberal Hero of the Week #45: Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett
Green Party leader
Reason: for sticking up for the rights of mothers to breastfeed wherever they choose
“Get yer tits out for the lads!” is the cry of the unreconstructed male down the ages, from building sites to readers of Nuts. Yet, oddly and all too often, when a woman gets her tits out for her child some folk react with a mixture of embarrassment, confusion and indignation — as if feeding your baby was the equivalent of going to the toilet in public.
Kudos, therefore, to Green Party leader Natalie Bennett for her intervention this week, calling for the rights of women to be able to breastfeed their babies to be written into law. This follows the story that a mother was left in tears after a female Jobcentre adviser told her that feeding her baby in an attempt to calm him during a one-on-one meeting in a private room was “disgusting”. Presumably letting her child go hungry would have been more socially acceptable.
… there is some protection (though not in Northern Ireland) from the 2010 Equalities Act, which indicates that treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding is sex discrimination, but action under this requires the woman to make a complaint, then follow it through a long and taxing process to get redress. And perhaps as a result, incidents do not seem to have reduced since the Act’s introduction.
Instead, a clear message must be sent that incidents like this must stop – and we have a model of the way forward close at hand. In 2005 Scotland passed a law making it an offence to try to stop breastfeeding in public places, and businesses who break the law risk a fine of up to £2,500. Since then, it’s hard to find a case of women being stopped from breastfeeding in Scotland, unlike England in particular, where they seem to crop up as regular as clockwork. That’s why the Green Party is calling for a similar law for England and Wales.
It’s not that we’d want or expect to see swathes of prosecutions and fines – but it would send a powerful message to businesses that it’s their responsibility to ensure staff know that they must not discriminate against breastfeeding mothers.
Liberals should always be cautious of new legislation, especially one which purports to “send a message” (it’s the law, not a howler). However, laws which enshrine the rights of individuals to act peaceably are all to the good. Nor is it likely to be that controversial. As the NHS website points out in its ‘Why breastfeed’ webpage:
Myth 4: “People don’t like women breastfeeding in public”
Fact: Surveys actually show that the majority of people don’t mind women breastfeeding in public at all. The more it’s done, the more normal it will become.
Quite so. It is a diminishing minority of stuffy people who object to women breastfeeding in front of them (as if mothers do it for the lolz) — it will at least be some compensation if women have the chance to upbraid them for being law-breakers.
* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.