Pamelia Khaled: “Women in much of the world lack support for fundamental functions of a human life.” (Nussbaum 2000) Women in most of the countries including Saudi Arabia are treated as lesser bearers of human rights. Thus women are victims of abuse, harassment, and exclusion, and they are far behind men in all spheres of life including Saudi women. Gender equality is largely moot in all aspects of women’s lives: specifically in education, women’s work, and development processes.
Over the last century, the country has made least progress in reducing gender gaps for enrollment in primary education and employment for women, but the qualitative improvement in these areas is very insignificant. Given that a large number of the population in Saudi Arabia, as elsewhere, consists of women, the problems of oppressive gender relations between women and men are very significant. This has become a crucial question for Saudi policy makers: in what form should gender, as a concept, be made the central focus in their policy programming?
Huffington Post released a feature on the breast feeding law issue in reference to Saudi Arabia today, 30th January, 2014. The Emirates’ Federal National Council has passed a clause, the new Child Rights law, which assert new mothers must breastfeed for full two years, if not, men can sue their wives.
These days most of us we know, modern research has found benefits of breastfeeding for baby such as breast feeding reduces the risk of obesity, increase language ability, and support for better motor development. Thus, educating a new mother and supporting is necessary, as she requires lesson for her new life.
I consider “every child’s right to be breastfed by mother” is only applicable when a mother is able to perform this duty. Her ability includes her physical and mental health condition as well as her social and economic condition.
The Huffington post report also mentions that if a woman is prohibited by health reasons, the council will provide a wet nurse to support her. It is unclear exactly how a mother’s ability to breastfeed will be determined though. In this report, Carrie Murphy’s argument was noted: it raises many questions such as where do the wet nurses come from? Do they live with UAE women and their families? How and who determines if you need one? Who pays their salary? And what about formula? Will it be sold in the country? Will it be contraband? Will you need a prescription for it? Some babies actually need formula rather breast milk and some babies can’t digest anything with milk at all, either formula Or, breast milk?
However, to some policy makers this new child rights law initiative might be commendable endeavour for working Saudi women or securing a new born child’s right, as it encourages them for breast feeding offers support by wet nurse; however, not laudable enough for women, as it passed a crude law as a form of punishment for a new mother. By implementing this law a new mother can be harassed and punished, as it encourages men to sue against women.
A new mother is extremely vulnerable and requires support from partner, and family for a certain time. She needs encouragement for her new life and parenting education as well. Huffington post also reported that in US breastfeeding has never been legally implemented; however, US politicians have intervened to enhance the number of babies being breastfed in different ways that also denigrate women and their freedom, their motherhood in some extent.
Imposing a new law for breastfeeding is not only an unnecessary step; it is further than of “mother and children’s right” debate. A mother can get sick and unable to feed since a child’s birth eventually. To prevent this law, all Saudi women and women in any part of the world must protest to save Saudi women’s right, specifically women’s right. This law indicates state refuse to acknowledge “women are not subjects or state’s apparatuses”. The Saudi State law can’t abuse women’s right implementing a new child feeding law in a primitive way. Breast feeding is mother’s right solely; however, it is also significant in which condition she lives (whether she is physically and mentally healthy) in. Also it is important to identify what is the best way a mother, her family and state can support her children collaboratively. A new mother must be supported within the law of human rights not by her social and political domain and not being threatened as a default criminal, not able to breastfeed her own child for some reasons.
The backlash of Saudi breastfeeding initiative: it is not supportive to women at all; rather, this new child rights law prone women in another danger, a new opportunity fastening women with a stronger leash by men. The Saudi State and its law makers are the initiators for generating a gendered law, an evil power for their men to support their egoistic men hood.
The writer is Doctoral student in Curriculum Studies and Teacher Development
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)
University of Toronto, Canada Research assistant,
University of Toronto