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If You Won’t Eat Your Lunch In The Toilet, Why Should A Baby Be Breastfed There?

By Tanya Munshi:

Editor’s note: Over 92% of women in India experience some form of harassment, yet, we hesitate to speak up. To help create safe spaces for conversations around these experiences, Youth Ki Awaaz and Breakthrough India have come together to encourage more individuals to speak out and support one another. The piece below is a part of this collaboration. We ask people everywhere to come, #StandWithMe. 

As I returned from a fantastic startup meet in Pune (where I was invited to talk about how we can break through prejudices at work), I recalled an incident that occurred many years back. I was out for dinner with my friends at a well-known five star hotel in Vishakhapatnam. One of my friends had a baby girl and needed to feed her child. When I asked the restaurant manager about a place where a lady could breastfeed her baby, he replied saying, “Sorry ma’am, but we have no rooms available.”

Slightly taken aback, I clarified that I wasn’t asking for a hotel room but a space where a mother could feed her child in privacy. He asked us to go to the ladies bathroom instead! I must admit I was stunned at the hotel manager’s apathy. However, my friend’s baby was crying. So, having no choice, we hurried to the ladies bathroom where my friend had to sit on a chair and feed her weeping, hungry child.

Cut to several years later, I had my baby girl. When I went out for a wedding or dinner, even at five star hotels, I noticed that the ladies’ washrooms were not equipped with baby changing platforms or feeding rooms. I sat on a couch in the ladies washroom feeding my baby, while women kept walking in to powder their noses. It was disturbing and the lack of privacy made me very uncomfortable. At some malls I had to feed my baby in a changing room!

Asking a nursing mother to feed her baby in the bathroom is like asking an adult to have a meal in a bathroom! If you can’t imagine having your lunch or dinner there, how can you expect a baby to get her feed in a bathroom? Don’t you think that food and shelter is a nursing mother’s basic right?

During my days of working in e-learning, we learned all about ‘accessibility‘, which refers to the “design of products, devices, services, or environments for people who experience disabilities.” However, the more I understood accessibility, the more I realised that ‘accessibility’ doesn’t have to limit itself to electronic media or people with disabilities.It encompasses the needs of a wider audience – pregnant moms, infants, senior citizens, et al. Since hotels, malls and other institutions are in the services industry, and cater to people directly, they have to ensure that certain basic accessibility standards are met, and something as basic as a platform to change a baby’s diapers or a cosy nook to nurse a baby, are absolute musts for a nursing mom and her infant.

Luckily, not all spaces are so oblivious to the needs of mothers. Inorbit Mall in Malad, Mumbai, has a fantastic baby care room with a feeding area. It makes my life so easy when I had to step out to shop or for a meal. Even smaller airports like Coimbatore have a baby changing room and a feeding room. During my trips abroad, I noticed that baby changing platforms could be found even in no-frills malls and the ladies’ washrooms attached to a petrol pumps and gas stations.

At the startup summit, the audience comprised a sea of entrepreneurs, mostly men with a few women co-founders, in attendance. I, on the other hand, shared the podium with two other women founders and CEOs. This was an opportunity to share my own views on how workplaces can be sensitive to the needs of its women employees.

I posed a question – as more women joined the workforce, as founders and CEOs wouldn’t they want to make their workplaces more conducive to their women employees? Providing basic facilities such as a creches and baby nursing rooms at a workplace shouldn’t come as an afterthought but should be part of a policy, because that is a basic right of any mother – working or otherwise. I also spoke about how if a woman’s nanny doesn’t turn up at home, she should be able to bring her baby to the office and leave the little one in a crèche, while she finishes off work for the day.

I have heard of a friend talking about her sister-in-law, a pilot, who couldn’t report to work on time as her nanny hadn’t shown up. This is ridiculous! If services such as these are not a part of a woman employee’s package, how can any company to expect her to deliver 100% at work? Companies must build an ecosystem that is favourable to their employees, and this includes working moms, too. I understand that some companies in India do offer such services to women employees but it needs to become a norm across small, medium, and non-corporate companies, too. Interestingly, some months ago at one of my parenting classes, I heard someone mention that even the men’s rooms need to offer baby changing rooms for dads who may be out on baby duty!

If you’d like to share your own experiences – from dealing with everyday sexism and gender stereotyping, to period shaming, harassment and abuse , do share your stories using #StandWithMe, and help take this important conversation forward.

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Image for representation only. Source: Veejay Villafranca/Getty Images
You must be to comment.
  1. Amaryllis Flower

    It’s pretty simple. I don’t eat my lunch from a human breast in a public space. If I did, I’d surely do that in private. Always makes me laugh when people say that.

  2. Anuja Gurele

    It is a shame that people see breastfeeding in public with disgust. It is something natural and must be appreciated. Matter of the fact, It is such an irony that if women wear something in which her valuable parts become visible, people have not much hesitation in giving her glares and looks and they start fantasizing about her, however, if women have her breast out for feeding a baby in the public, it becomes disgusting for people. Even if breastfeeding in public is such a ridiculous thing then why aren’t there enough nursing rooms build for women to have some privacy and feed her small ones. Shaming women for breastfeeding in public is just ways of patriarchs to make them feel down and insecure about their bodies and their duties of life. Women should breastfeed in public, it is natural and nothing to be ashamed of.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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