Privilege Speech on Breastfeeding Month
By Deputy Speaker Pia S. Cayetano
Taguig City, Second District
August 29, 2017
Madam Speaker, one of the most common reasons why women are unable to continue breastfeeding is because they have to return to work. To address this, Republic Act 10028, which I sponsored when I was in the Senate, provides for mechanisms to make breastfeeding more accessible to working women. The said law likewise declares the month of August as National Breastfeeding Month in order to promote breastfeeding. Which is also the reason why I am delivering this speech.
Allow me to begin by showing photos of women members of parliament from other countries in the performance of their legislative duties.
This is Kirstie Marshall, a member of the Victorian parliament state in Australia. Ms. Marshall had brought her 11-day-old daughter to work, and decided to breastfeed her right inside the session hall. But the Sergeant-At-Arms promptly escorted her out, saying that Ms. Marshall had violated parliamentary protocol by bringing an ‘unelected member’ inside the chamber, namely, her 11-day-old daughter Charlotte. Take note that the incident occurred over ten years ago in 2003. At that time, it provoked a storm of debates about the rights of babies and women returning to work.
In the next photo is Argentinian MP Victoria Donda Perez. A lawyer and women’s advocate, she never had second thoughts about breastfeeding her eight-month-old daughter Trilce inside parliament whenever the latter got hungry. This photo of her even went viral, and was met with much praise online. This was in 2015.
This is MP Unnur Brá Kon.ráðs-dóttir of Iceland. She was breastfeeding her six-week-old daughter inside the session hall, which was allowed, when she was called upon to deliver her party’s position on a bill being debated on the floor. A colleague volunteered to hold her baby right before she approached the podium, but Ms. Unnur politely refused the offer. She would later explain in an interview that bringing her baby to the podium was the ‘least disruptive’ option for her at that moment. Otherwise, her newborn would have cried loudly and interrupted the chamber’s proceedings.
Finally, we have Queensland Senator Larissa Waters. She had just returned to work last May upon ending her maternity leave, and is seen here proudly breastfeeding her 2-month-old daughter Alia Joy inside plenary. Last year, the Australian Parliament amended its rules to allow female lawmakers to nurse their infant inside the chamber, and the senator was the first to benefit from the new rule.
And so the issue has actually come full circle in Australia, dating back to that infamous incident in 2003, which I presented to you at the beginning of my speech, where MP Kirstie Marshall and her baby were led out of parliament for doing a most natural human act: A mother breastfeeding her baby. These women MPs delivered a powerful message and, consciously or unconsciously, have become role models for other nursing moms in their respective countries.
Madam Speaker, I show these photos to illustrate how breastfeeding in the workplace has come to be considered ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ in many countries. Our law, in fact, RA 10028 provides for breastfeeding mechanisms so that it is more accessible to working women.
Madam Speaker, I showed these photos to illustrate exactly this, and here inside parliament, an institution traditionally dominated by men, where we must likewise stand up and show that this right to breastfeeding is also respected.
I would like to show you a photo of the breastfeeding room in the Senate for its nursing women employees. I refer to ‘employees’ because at the time we set it up, there had not been a female senator who was nursing. This was a project I initiated with the Senate GAD committee, and here is my photo with some of the nursing employees who used the room to express their milk and store the same in a refrigerator we had set up there. We are also pleased to note that the Senate Breastfeeding Room is widely used not only by our employees but also by resource persons who came to attend the hearings. This is because we have signs in all floors pointing to the location of the nursing room.
While breastfeeding initiation rates in the country have markedly improved over the last decade, there is still much to be done. DOH and advocates agree on aggressive implementation of RA 10028, or the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009, and Executive Order 51 or the National Milk Code, in addition to the passage of certain bills which are pending. RA 10028, which as mentioned, this representation authored, mandates breastfeeding rooms to be set up in public places and workplaces, while allowing paid lactation breaks at work to allow nursing mothers to express and store their milk.
Additionally, breastfeeding should continuously be integrated in the maternal health programs of national and local hospitals; encourage human milk banks and community-based breastmilk donations, and feeding programs for young children.
Your Honors, we have many members of Congress who have breastfed their babies or are currently breastfeeding. May I thus put forward the proposal that our rules clearly allow women members of Congress to breastfeed on the floor while session is going on.
We likewise have thousands of House of Representatives women employees, some of who are of reproductive age. Unfortunately, when our office checked with the medical department, we were informed that there is only one breastfeeding room for the entire House of Representatives population. This is located in the medical and dental building near the North Wing gate. I visited this place and sadly, the room is so small that it can only accommodate one breastfeeding mother at a time. And it is located inside the clinic, which is really not the most ideal place for a woman to breastfeed or express her milk. May I thus put forward again the proposal that we set up more breastfeeding rooms in at least two locations and in such a way that would really promote breastfeeding. May I also encourage my fellow honorable members of Congress to allow their nursing employees to use their offices to express their milk as well as to give them ample time to do so – which is actually a requirement of the law.
Society acknowledges and respects a woman’s unique ability to give birth to a child. But it is high time we give the same respect to breastfeeding – no jokes, no whispering behind our backs – but solid and unconditional support for this amazing gift that women have to feed and raise our babies.