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Wednesday, January 18, 2017
- A member of the Spanish Congress, Carolina Bescana, of the anti-austerity Podemos Party, created a controversy last week when she took her six-month old baby to work and openly breastfed him during a session. The delegate was widely criticized by almost all parties for her action and the event has spurred a lively debate on the image of mothers who juggle motherhood with their jobs.
In 2006, socialist Manuel Martin established a kindergarden where congresswomen and men could leave their children while they attended congress sessions. It is a paying service, with the capacity to take 45 infants but that the congresswoman decided not to use, instead bringing her baby into a working session, and making the point for mothers generally about having children in the workplace:
“It is time to bring the reality that is on the streets into official institutions, so that this Chamber is more representative of our country,” Ms Bescansa declared. “We need to encourage that certain tasks stop being a private affair that women need to deal with confidentially in the invisibility of their homes.”
Podemos was condemned by all parties. Socialist Carme Chacón, who was criticized when she was the Minister of Defence for traveling to Afghanistan in the last months of her pregnancy, deprecated her colleague.
“Honestly, it was not necessary. I feel badly because there are many female workers in this country who cannot do this. It’s a bad example (for women) because there have been many efforts to allow women in Congress, who do not have maternity leave, to breastfeed their children, as I did, without everyone seeing”, said Chacón.
The idea, however, was to set an example of the difficulty that thousands of women face in juggling their private and professional lives and to highlight the need to share responsibilities and rights between both men and women.
“In this country, there are millions of mothers who unfortunately cannot raise their children as they would like, who cannot go to work with their children as if it was something normal,” Bescansa said to reporters ” I think that the fact that coming to parliament with a breastfed baby makes the news says a lot about this country. That means we need to give more visibility to this.”
It is not the first time a European politician has taken a stand by bringing their children into parliament. Iolanda Pineda, of the Socialists’ Party of Catalonia took her baby in 2012 into Spain’s upper house of parliament, and Licia Ronzulli, a former Italian member in the European Parliament, has frequently taken her daughter to sessions.
The issue has opened a debate on the role of women both professionally and privately. Breastfeeding, which is a natural part of childbearing and caring, is still seen in many places as obscene and something to be done in private.
It is important to mobilize at all levels of society in order to change the shame associated with breastfeeding and to incorporate it as part of the natural daily tasks of women both in public and in the workplace.