Breastfeeding At The Workplace In Pakistan
A few days ago when I was researching on the possible maternity rights available to women in Pakistan, I was exposed to the fact that all four of Pakistan’s provinces have enacted bills on breastfeeding rights for mothers.
With the growing hype recently about the importance of breastfeeding, I thought it was a good idea to look closely into what Pakistan’s laws on breastfeeding entailed. Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, all have laws which promote breastfeeding over bottled formula milk (which is great), but nowhere do they talk about the necessity for workplaces and employers to allocate space and time for working mothers to breastfeed their children. The Punjab Protection of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition (Amendment) Act 2012, The Sindh Protection and Promotion of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Bill, 2013, The Balochistan Protection and Promotion of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Bill, 2014 and The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Protection of Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Act, 2015 all focus on promoting the practice of breastfeeding and holding suppliers of formula milk, doctors, nurses or any other entity, accountable for encouraging mothers to use formula milk for their babies instead of encouraging them to breastfeed.
The fact that Pakistan stands as the only country in South Asia which has the highest rate of bottle-feeding and lowest exclusive breastfeeding rate shows just how incompetent the national system is in providing the right type of facilities within workplaces for working mothers to breastfeed their children. This entire issue rests on two main tiers. Firstly, the main problem is that there is no concept and understanding when it comes to the importance of having day-care facilities at the workplace or near the workplace with trained nurses or female caretakers who are solely sensitized for these matters. Of course then, when the professional sector does not provide appropriate measures for women to bring their new born babies to work, they are unable to breastfeed. This cycle perpetuates and reinforces the notion that women need to stay home once they decide to start families, the patriarchal notion that “family comes before career” and it leads to the frequent use of formula milk, putting the health of babies in jeopardy.
Legally speaking, even though there is no clear provision on breastfeeding breaks at the workplace, the Factories Rules (93 under section 33-Q) require the employer to make sure that it facilitates mothers at the workplace. If there are 50 or more women employed at a workplace, the employer is obliged to provide a room or rooms for the use of children who are 6 years or younger. It also requires employers to hire trained nurses and female servants to attend to these children during working hours. Women workers can also use these rooms for breastfeeding during their rest or meal breaks. These rooms are restricted only to children, their attendants and children’s mothers. However, these law are as usual not implemented.
The other more deep-rooted problem is a cultural one – myths that damage the possibility of children being breastfed. It is medically proven that diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia in new born babies (two most common diseases that lead to infant death) can be easily prevented if babies are breastfed. Furthermore, the health of the mother is also sustained when she practices breastfeeding methods. However, some common myths that exist in the country about breastfeeding, holding back new mothers from breastfeeding their babies include, believing that the initial breast milk is stale, that there is not enough milk for the baby, that formula milk is better and more “modern”, and that a mom needs to eat a lot more during breastfeeding. Some interventions suggested by the The Child Rights Movement (CRM) Pakistan to tackle these misconceptions, are educating and guiding working mothers about breastfeeding, enhancing employers’ awareness about importance of breastfeeding, arranging physical facilities for breastfeeding support at workplace, flexibility in work environment for lactating mothers, and developing a mother-and-baby-friendly policy at work. Other obvious solutions to this hurdle would be to enact laws and build more appropriate professional environments which welcome new mothers and new born babies. In this way, women wouldn’t have to choose between their family and career and when they have the option of safely bringing their children to their workplaces, they can easily breastfeed them, rescuing them from health hazards posed by formula milk.
As a ratifier of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 183, Pakistan is supposed to make sure that women workers have the right to one or more daily breaks or a daily reduction in working hours to breastfeed their children. National authorities are to decide the length and number of breaks, although the first ILO Convention on Maternity Protection (No.3), required two 30-minute breaks in every working day. In addition, breastfeeding breaks are in addition to meal and rest breaks. There are also provisions on day care and nursing facilities where women workers can breastfeed their children. It is often an employer’s responsibility to provide day care facilities.
Despite Pakistan being a signatory to the ILO Convention and despite the existing Factories Rules, there isn’t much happening on the implementation front. The concept of day care facilities being provided for new mothers at workplaces is still new in the country. There is a growing number of women who are part of the labour force now but not much attention is directed towards workplace lactation support systems, which is why working mothers find it extremely difficult to breastfeed their babies.
Let’s face it – breastfeeding is still generally a taboo subject, but I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that there were laws in every province which openly promoted breastfeeding. There are plenty of amendments and additions which can be made to them, however. Laws need to make sure that breastfeeding at the workplace is made possible and available: an important stepping stone to decreasing the number of infant deaths in Pakistan. Employers, nationwide, desperately need to be sensitized in order to enable female employees to avail their breastfeeding rights while working. Working mothers, as well, need to raise their voices to claim their rights, which are already prescribed in the law.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which she might be associated.