Today is International Women’s Day, which was first held in 1911. The idea had been proposed at the second International Conference of Working Women, held in Copenhagen in 1910. The Day symbolises the struggle for equality, particularly in the workplace, but is also an opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements. You can read more about its history here: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/About

The theme this year is #BalanceforBetter, summarising that a better world has a better gender balance. While considerable progress has been made (for example, it was only in 1948 that women at Cambridge were given formal recognition of their degrees, and the percentage of girls in primary school in the world has risen from 65% in 1970 to 90% in 2015*), there is still a gender pay gap and women are in the minority in business and politics. 

Balance requires removing conscious and unconscious bias about people; bias that results from assumptions being made about their capabilities. Alongside removing bias there needs to be support to meet specific needs individuals may have so that opportunities really are accessible – practical support includes items such as ramps and particular computer software. Thus, on the one hand, it’s essential not to assume differences that don’t exist so that women, men and intersex people of equal merit have equal opportunities.

On the other hand, it is important to respect real differences such as biological differences. Female employees who are breastfeeding need breaks for expressing or feeding, a suitable place to do that and facilities such as a fridge for storing expressed milk. If those were a legal requirement in the UK employers would be expected to provide them. Indicator 4 of the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative is about maternity protection and the 2016 UK report assessed how well the UK is doing and made recommendations.

We’ve also had several blogs focussing on the issue, a blog on breastfeeding and Shared Parental Leave from Ros Bragg at Maternity Action, and a summary of the issue from our own Helen Gray.

With regard to achievements, every mother who nourishes her baby with her own milk is doing something ordinary that millions of women have done before her yet is also extraordinary.

* Rosling H (2018) Factfulness Stodder & Houghton

Photo: iStock.com/Jonas Unruh

Patricia Wise is an NCT breastfeeding counsellor and a member of the WBTi Steering Group.

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