Thursday, July 17, 2008

Confusion over Harman's Equality Bill leads to demonstrations outside Parliament

A report from Veronika Robinson, Editor of The Mother magazine:

Families throughout the UK will demonstrate in Parliament Square on Friday (July 18th) against the discrimination inherent in Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill, which will only provide public breastfeeding protection for babies aged under six months.

Concern has been raised over the lack of clarity in law and how this will affect those families who choose to follow the World Health Organisation’s guidelines of a minimum of six months exclusive breastfeeding.

Editor of The Mother magazine, Veronika Robinson, says “It was this six month cut off point that started panic amongst breastfeeding mothers who, in accord with WHO and Government Health guidelines, seek to breastfeed well beyond this six month limit. They were concerned that they could now be discriminated against, for feeding a child older than six months when in public.

In a predominantly bottle-feeding culture, like Britain, it is even more important that our government delivers strong, uncompromising and ongoing support for breastfed children of all ages, no matter where they happen to need breastfeeding. It’s vital that the government’s breastfeeding guidelines stand shoulder to shoulder with those of the World Health Organisation and UNICEF.

Women who breastfeed for more than six months feel they will be discriminated against because they’re in a minority. Indeed, more than 4 out of 5 British-born babies don’t even receive the minimum of breastfeeding as set out by the World Health Organisation.”

Mothers are already protected by the Sexual Discrimination Act 1975; this was amended in 2008 and includes a reference to six months. The protection under the SDA75 is on the grounds of gender. This law is little understood.

In response to The Mother magazine, Barbara Follett, deputy minister for Women and Equality, agrees, “The law is not as clear as it should be. People are unaware of their rights and their responsibilities in this area.”

Mrs Robinson says, “The Equality Bill will make people even more confused, and it risks becoming the point of reference in law. Although the government insists the Equality Bill is relating to maternity, it has failed to answer why, if the SDA of 1975 does indeed provide full protection for all breastfeeding children, wherever and whenever they are in public, then why introduce a Bill which will only serve to confuse the general public?"

The petition, launched by The Mother magazine, was signed by 6000 people in just a matter of a couple of weeks. It will be presented to 10 Downing Street on Friday, along with an open letter to Harriet Harman, endorsed by more than 30 signatories, including Dr Michel Odent, Jean Liedloff and James Prescott.

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