Larissa Waters, a Queensland senator with the Australian Greens Party, made history yesterday as the first woman to breastfeed her baby on the Parliament floor.
She tweeted the picture and said she was “so proud that my baby Alia is the first baby to be breastfed in the federal Parliament!”
— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) May 9, 2017
In a duplicate post on her Facebook page, Waters added: “We need more family-friendly and flexible workplaces, and affordable childcare, for everyone.”
The Australian House of Representatives revised its rules regarding children and infants in February 2016. Previously, they were considered visitors and were confined to public galleries and offices in the parliament building, but now they’re allowed in chambers and women are permitted to nurse during session.
“No member male or female will ever be prevented from participating fully in the operation of the parliament by reason of having the care of a baby,” House Leader Christopher Pyne said, according to the BBC. “There is absolutely no reason that rules should remain in place which make life in politics and the parliament more difficult for women.”
In 2003, Victorian MP Kristie Marshall was ejected from Australian parliament for breastfeeding her daughter, Charlotte, who was 11 days old at the time. Similarly, in 2009, Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young’s two-year-old daughter was kicked out of parliament.
In a tweet yesterday, Waters referenced Marshall’s story to illustrate “how far we’ve come.”
Here is Kirstie Marshall before she was ejected from the Vic Parliament for breastfeeding her 11-day old bub. Look how far we have come! pic.twitter.com/LrzZcIFBXq
— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) May 10, 2017
This is a hot-button topic that has been contested in several countries over the last few years. In 2016, an Icelandic politician was praised for nursing her child (while delivering a speech) during a session of parliament, while a Spanish MP drew ire for doing the same.
Meanwhile, trailblazers in Europe, like Licia Ronzulli, a former Member of the European parliament from Italy, who first brought her infant to European parliamentary sessions in 2010, have been trying to change the conversation for some time. And although a group of MPs in the U.K. called for an overturn of the ban on women breastfeeding in parliament in 2015, they were warned that such a law would risk ridicule from the tabloid press and one politician called it “exhibitionism.”
Waters has been receiving mixed reviews for yesterday’s actions.
@larissawaters Parliament making womanhood 'normal' and setting the bar for all employers when it comes to accepting women as equals in the workplace.
— Carol Lucas (@CarolLucas01) May 9, 2017
@larissawaters You go Girl! You need to bring that kind of thinking to the U.S.
— Michael Yaunk (@myaunk) May 10, 2017
@larissawaters Someday this won't be news because we will see breastfeeding anywhere as normal (which it is!)
— Robin Toupin (@RToupin) May 10, 2017
— Renuka (@dr_renjo) May 10, 2017
— Scot Tanner Buchholz (@BScotTanner) May 10, 2017
— JaneMiami (@janemiami) May 10, 2017
@larissawaters that is a personal private thing. Not to be done in public!
— Susan Scavelli (@susan_scavelli) May 10, 2017
Women in Canada are permitted to breastfeed in public, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, however only B.C. and Ontario have specific breastfeeding laws in place. Despite this, there have been instances in recent years where mothers across the country have been asked to cover up while breastfeeding or to vacate an establishment.
Meanwhile, in April, Colombia’s largest shopping mall — located in Bogota’s Centro Mayor — unveiled windows populated with breastfeeding mannequins. The campaign was launched by Amigos de la Lactancia (Friends of Breastfeeding), an organization that supports women who have been shamed for publicly breastfeeding.