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World Breastfeeding Week: Supporting Breastfeeding for Women’s Productivity and Employment

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The 2016 World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) theme is Breastfeeding: A Key to Sustainable Development. Join International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) and World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) in observing WBW 1-7 August 2016. To find out more about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and available #WBW2016 resources, read this Lactation Matters post.

At the World Breastfeeding Week website, WABA explains how breastfeeding is linked to each of the SDGs along four thematic areas. Throughout the week, ILCA will highlight each of these themes to help you better understand the SDGs and learn how to connect your critical local efforts to these larger international goals.

WBW Theme #4: Women’s Productivity and Employment

Breastfeeding plays an important role in reducing poverty (SDG 1); ensuring quality education and lifelong learning (SDG 4); increasing gender equality (SDG 5); promoting inclusive work opportunities (SDG 8); building industry, innovation, and infrastructure (SDG 9);  and eliminating disparities in and among countries (SDG 10).

Around the world, governments are emphasizing women’s participation in the labor force as a solution for economic growth, gender equality, and poverty reduction. Women are often forced to accept poorly paid, low-quality jobs. About 830 million women, mainly in developing countries, lack social protection in their job situation that might enable them to continue caring for their families as they had before.

Without protections for paid maternity leave, flexible scheduling, and breaks to pump or breastfeed, breastfeeding rates for working women decrease. This reduction in breastfeeding may come with an increase in childhood illnesses, resulting in time away from school for children and employment for their parents. Maternity leave policies are effective in increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates. Only 53% of countries meet the International Labor Organization’s 14 week minimum standard for maternity leave. In fact, every additional month of paid maternity leave decreases infant mortality rates by 13%. Incorporating lactation rooms and paid breastfeeding breaks can increase breastfeeding at six months.

Women’s unpaid caring activities in the household are important to the health, development, and well-being of all family members and must be recognized in economic and social development strategies. To narrow the gender gap at work, women need support to combine their productive and reproductive roles, and this support must incorporate the time and structures necessary for continued breastfeeding.

What support do women receive for breastfeeding when they return to work in YOUR community?

  • Promote paid parental protection policies that are gender equitable and which support co-parenting and breastfeeding.
  • Talk to some local employers about how they could make their workplaces supportive for breastfeeding.
  • Find out your country’s laws surrounding maternity protection, including the type of leave and workplace facilities most local employers are providing.
  • Advocate at all levels and between sectors for the needs and rights of maternity protection of workers in both the formal and informal employment sectors.
  • Encourage politicians and officials in your country to assess the status of their current maternity and parental protection entitlements using existing tools such as the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi).

For the most up-to-date information about WBW 2016 and to download and purchase promotional materials, please visit the World Breastfeeding Week website by clicking here.

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