Us humans are a rather odd bunch. Our most natural functions tend to be our most shameful, and our most private. Intercourse, deification, urination, nudity and breastfeeding are prime examples of this. Although each of these actions are engrained deep within our D.N.A and exist as essential elements of humanity, there is a certain shameful nature to them which has been cultivated by society. Our bodies and their inherent functionality are encouraged to be hidden away, and kept for moments of intimacy or privacy.
Perhaps the most baffling action considered to be shameful by some is breastfeeding. All mammals on the planet nurse their young with milk. Humans are no exception to this rule. Due to their limited ability to communicate, when an infant wants to be fed all it can do is cry and scream until it eats. This raises a challenge for women the world over – their children need to be fed, but some people might get “offended” by the sight of a breast nursing a child. This is considerably weird, because generally people love the miracle of infancy and human procreation. The shameful society we have constructed around us dictates that a naked breast should not be shown in public, even if it is being used to feed a child which has no other way of feeding itself. More and more women have begun breastfeeding in public places as a show of defiance towards prudish and often sexist viewpoints, but more importantly because their children need to eat, and sometimes that doesn’t happen at a time that is “convenient” for the other people around. As a society, we need to normalise the normal.
For this reason, it is an important and monumental step towards shattering the glass ceiling that Australian senator Larissa Waters breastfed her child Alia Joy Waters during a session of parliament a few days ago. The milestone has been achieved after Larissa Waters prompted changes to senate rules last year, extending rules that already allowed breastfeeding in the chamber to allow new mothers and fathers to care for their infants on the floor of Parliament. The Australian House of Representatives have made similar changes. Our political system in Australia is largely modelled on that of the United Kingdom, where it is forbidden to breastfeed in the Chamber of the House of Commons. In 2016, an Icelandic MP created waves when she breastfed her baby while speaking to parliament. Unnur Brá Konráðsdóttir, a representative of the somewhat conservative Independence Party nursed her six-week old child while explaining her vote on immigration legislation. This occurrence was the first time that an MP had fed a child while addressing parliament, and prompted a wave of action globally.
Larissa Waters is a senator for The Greens in Australia. It isn’t the first time that The Green’s have been embroiled in such a monumental event. Back in 2009, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young made headlines when her two-year-old daughter Kora was taken from her arms and ejected from the senate chamber due to the archaic rules that children were not allowed in the space. The baby could be heard screaming as it was taken through the halls of Parliament away from its mother. The occasion prompted a national debate around the issue, leading to a chain of events eventually allowing Larissa Waters to breastfeed in Parliament.
The other big news from the senate this week comes in the form of the swearing-in of Australia’s first black African member of Parliament, independent senator Lucy Gichuhi.
Revolution and change do not happen easily, or without resistance. But thanks to the trailblazing efforts of senators like Larissa Waters and Sarah Hanson-Young, we can get closer to normalising what should be considered normal, and in the process create a fairer society and political system for everyone, regardless of gender. The removal of rules around breastfeeding in Parliament takes us closer to a more even-handed, less sexist Parliament which treats men and women with the same level of dignity, and respect.