Chilean advocacy organisations have launched a campaign for the “freedom to breastfeed” with a provocative video. They are, in particular, denouncing the stigmatisation of women who breastfeed in public and are demanding that laws be implemented to protect the right to do so.
The benefits of mother’s milk are well established. The World Health Organisation has even made breastfeeding a recommendation. But in many countries, doing it in full view in a park or a shopping centre is frowned upon. Organisations in Chile such as Lactivismo Chile and Criamor, with the help of PR company Young and Rubicam, launched a shock campaign on March 20.
Their one-minute clip, which was broadcast on YouTube, showed strippers inviting mothers “looking for a safe place to breastfeed” to come to their club. “At least here we can show our breasts without any fear,” one of them says. On the campaign’s website, the organisations provide statistics. The figures show that almost 50% of women say they have felt “unsafe” when they have breastfed outside of their homes. And a majority (60%) would “not be comfortable” with the idea of breastfeeding their child in public.
"You see this hypocrisy in advertising: nobody is particularly bothered by seeing breasts if it's to sell cars or alcohol!"
Our Observer Claudia Pandelara is the founder of the NGO Lactivismo Chile. She is pleased with the media coverage this campaign received, at a time when five female members of Chile’s National Congress have tabled a bill aiming to make assaults on women breastfeeding in public punishable by law.
A bill to defend breastfeeding rights was proposed in 2014 in Congress but did not make it into law. When we learned that the members of Congress were going to table a new law, based on the previous one but with more measures added to protect breastfeeding women, we wanted to stir up some media attention about the matter. I think that the law got bogged down for so long in part because the government wasn’t really confronted with people who were mobilised about it. I am convinced that if we can make some things go “viral”, we can get much more political interest.
The message of this campaign deliberately highlights the hypocrisy of Chilean society in how people are not bothered about seeing bare breasts in cabarets but can go as far as insulting a woman who breastfeeds in the street, saying she is “immoral” and asking her to cover her breasts. You see this hypocrisy in advertising: nobody is particularly bothered by seeing breasts if it's to sell cars or alcohol.
I am delighted with the impact our campaign has had. It was broadcast on several national TV channels and got coverage in the international press. We now hope that the new planned law will have a better chance of passing than the last one.
The subject of breastfeeding in public had already got media attention in February when a video of a mother, Lissette Mardones, being insulted by a man as she breastfed her child in a shopping centre in the city of Concepción was put on social media.
What is being said from 0.19 onwards: " - I'm not doing anything wrong. - It's ugly. - What has it got to do with you, what I'm doing? I'm just nursing my baby!"
The footage, which was initially posted online by a friend of hers, was widely shared on social media. In response, several mothers' associations organised a “protest feeding” outside the shopping centre. On social media they called for people to gather using the hashtag #NoTeMetasConMisTetas (“Get your nose out of my boobs”).
"There are sometimes spaces for breastfeeding in shopping centres but, very often, it’ll be near the toilets.”
Speaking to FRANCE 24, Lissette Mardones confirmed the pressure that women who breastfeed in public come under in Chile.
The main problem, for me, is that part of society fails to understand that breastfeeding your child is not exhibitionism. For instance, there are also people – men and women – who, when they see a woman breastfeeding, ask them to cover their breast. There are sometimes spaces for breastfeeding in shopping centres but, very often, it’ll be near the toilets. Well, personally, I don’t eat in the bathroom. And the same goes for my child. So when I decide to breastfeed in public, there are often men who stare at me or come up and say things like “Is this baby inviting me to lunch?”
I think that any awareness campaign like “Lactancia Libre” is welcome, but they shouldn’t be viewed through a male lens. Shortly after I was confronted, the government also produced a video calling for breastfeeding women to be respected, which I thought was very well done. In it there was a little girl. I thought that was important, because it's already difficult to feed a small baby in public, let alone feeding a child older than six months, which is even more badly perceived!
It is not just in Chile where women are calling for the right to breastfeed in public, unmolested. On the 15th May, Kenyan women demonstrated in Nairobi against a restaurant that prevented a woman from breastfeeding her baby in front of other customers. These movements, which first appeared in the United States in the 1950s with the establishment of La Leche League, also exist in Europe, like in France, the UK and also Denmark.