A Spanish MP highlights the plight of working mothers everywhere — by breastfeeding her infant son in parliament — but she isn’t the first.
This most recent event happened earlier this January in Madrid, when Carolina Bescansa brought her 5-month-old son, Diego into the first parliamentary session of the new Spanish government. Bescansa was elected into office this past December after national elections, where she ran with Podemos, the anti-austerity party. The party made campaign promises for free childcare and women’s rights. Despite this, the presence of a baby in Spanish parliament caused quite a stir — and not because the baby cried.
Instead the cries were from other politicians who questioned Bescansa’s actions. According to BBC, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, the acting Interior Minister, called the action lamentable, while Socialist MP Carme Chacon said it was “frankly unnecessary.” Other critics accused Bescansa of attention seeking and attempting to create a publicity stunt. An odd accusation because breastfeeding is deemed essential in the first six months by The American Academy of Pediatrics for the healthy development of child.
Bescansa said the overwhelming reaction showed society still has room to grow. “I think that the fact that coming to parliament with a breast-fed baby makes the news says a lot about this country. That means we need to give more visibility to this.”
But this isn’t the first time Bescansa had taken her baby into parliament. When she was sworn in as a member of the government, Diego was in her arms.
With this, Bescansa joins a growing number of elected politicians from all over the world, who are also mothers, seeking to be close to their young children as well as improve women’s rights.
In 2010, Italian politician Licia Ronzulli brought her seven-week-old old baby into the European parliament. She maintains her motivation was not to create controversy. Instead, she told The Guardian newspaper, “It was not a political gesture. It was first of all a maternal gesture — that I wanted to stay with my daughter as much as possible, and to remind people that there are women who do not have this opportunity [to bring their children to work], that we should do something to talk about this.” Now five years on, Ronzulli continues to bring her daughter with her to work.
In European parliaments before Ronzulli, a Danish representative, Hanne Dahl brought her infant into the chamber a single time. She also brought the child to weekly conference of presidents meetings on several occasions.
Another previous member of European parliament to be accompanied by their child was the German delegate, Hiltrud Breyer. She would regularly breastfeed her young child during environment committee meetings.
Also in Europe, a member of the Socialists’ Party of Catalonia (PSC), Iolanda Pineda, brought her baby into the upper house of Spain’s parliament. This happened in 2012.
In November 2015, female members of English parliament requested that new mothers be permitted in the House of Commons chamber, even while breastfeeding. Advocates for the move say it’s important if more women are to get involved in politics — which will also provide more representation to British citizens of both sexes. Not only that, but the government can and should set an example for the country. Labour MP Jess Phillips tabled a number of changes during a Westminster Hall debate, including breastfeeding in the chamber, increasing the age of children allowed in voting lobbies and reevaluating work hours to encourage work and life balance.
MPs down under could soon be permitted to breastfeed in parliament. The changes are in the works after a Liberal member of parliament Kelly O’Dwyer was advised to prepare more breast milk before sessions.
The request was issued by the office of the government’s Chief Whip, Scott Buchholz. The advice was an attempt to encourage O’Dwyer to not be absent during important votes — which she had been in order to breastfeed her daughter. However, she had also continued completing her duties. She did this with a proxy vote.
Currently, MPs who are new mothers and breastfeeding can vote despite not physically being present in the chamber. The leader of the opposition agrees that the rules need to be updated and breastfeeding should be allowed in parliament.
Women across the globe, including Spanish MP Carolina Bescansa, want to be involved in government — but also want to be mothers raising a family. These two roles don’t need to be mutually exclusive. As MPs from Italy, the UK and Australia have demonstrated, it is possible to effectively do both. Not only that, but their participation in both realms actually highlights women’s issues.
Critics have accused such female politicians of letting personal issues creep into public life, but it’s these mothers and politicians who help to reflect half of the world’s population and see to it that they receive fair representation.
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