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Women

I’ve just read yet another outraged post about women who breastfeed in public. And yet again, the main thrust of the argument being spouted against it is that it’s disgusting and should be banned, especially when it is done in public, particularly in a cafe of restaurant.

Why?

What’s wrong with it? I’ve seen some truly disgusting things in restaurants such as people who lick their knives, people who chew with their mouth open and people who talk with their mouth full and spray half chewed food and spittle everywhere. Can we ban these people too please?

What does everyone who goes to cafe do when they get there? Have a drink! Eat! Why should a baby be any different? We all need to have regular meals, why should a baby be any different. And the idea that a breastfeeding woman should go to the toilet and feed their baby there – really? Would the people who say that like to eat their dinner sitting on the toilet? No? I thought not, no-one would. If you bottle-fed your baby you have to make sure things are sterilised and clean so you don’t introduce harmful bacteria into the baby’s system yet breastfeeding Mums are often being asked to go to the toilet and fed their child there. Disgusting. What is wrong with people in this country. If the sight of a woman doing something perfectly natural like breastfeeding offends you and disgusts you so much there try this for an idea – look the other way.

I think another report I saw this morning gets right to the nub of the issue. This second report was about a politician in the USA who said that if a woman got out her breasts in public to feed her child then he has the right to grope her. What we have here is a man, and yes, the politician in question was a man, seeing a woman’s breasts as his own personal play thing. Well they aren’t. They have a purpose which is not to entertain and titillate. They have developed and evolved over millennia as a way to nourish the next generation. Breasts are not a sex toy.

And then there was a third report I saw this evening, on the same subject, which angered and upset me more than the other two reports combined.

This report was about a woman who has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment for breastfeeding in public. Seven years. How warped is that? A woman who followed her natural instinct to nourish and nurture her child is being incarcerated for doing so. Granted, there is probably a lot more to the story than has been reported in the press, it may even be a spoof but, even so, if it is true, is imprisonment really a proportionate response? Just the thought that such a story could be given any credance at all is wrong, just the idea that such a story could be written at all says something about the nation where it reportedly happened. Let’s not forget, we’re talking about a country where a young man who sexually abused a young woman, physically assaulted her and left her, battered, bruised and bloodied, behind  rubbish bin in an alley, served just three months of a six month sentence before being released and yet, allegedly, a woman whose crime was to breastfeds her child in public supposedly gets seven years? How can this ever be seen as right. Surely, it can’t. There has to be something seriously wrong with a legal system which could, at least, allow this to happen or which even sees the idea of it happening as right.

The issue of breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in public, is something we all really need to examine again and have a proper, reasoned and rational debate about. There must be a solution that can satisfy everyone. I have to say that one idea I have seen was in the cafe of a well-known Swedish furniture store. There was a special area set aside that had comfy seats, bean bags, tables, armchairs and screens for the use of those people who wanted to breastfeed or bottle feed their child. In my opinion, what a good idea. Granted, not all cafes and restaurants are big enough to have a whole section set aside for breastfeeding Mums but surely, in most places, it must be possible to have a table or tables in a secluded corner where breast-feeding can take place in peace and quiet without anyone complaining. People who don’t like to see babies being fed would know not to sit there and breastfeeding Mums would not feel excluded and isolated. Not only that, but small children, whose presence often annoys other, adult diners, would be able to play and make a mess whilst their parents eat, without upseing anyone else.

We all really need to have a rational and reasonable discussion, find a solution which suits everyone and not stigmatise women doing something perfectly natural as disgusting and wrong. Women who breastfeed are not exposing themselves or flaunting their sexuality, they are simply nourishing their child. That’s all. Nothing more.

And, if you really are someone who really doesn’t like it, I have a simple solution for you – don’t look.

Last night, one of my female Muslim carers made an interesting comment. She echoed the words spoken by a Muslim woman who was on the evening news at the time, ‘Why just Muslim women?’

The report they were both commenting on was a story about David Cameron proposal that the government should spend £20m on providing English lessons for Muslim women? Both my carer and the woman on the TV said the same thing, practically in unison.

Why just women and why just Muslims?

Why not both men AND women of any nationality OR religion who don’t speak English?

The government have really cut ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) provision since they first came to power, why not put the £20m into funding for everyone who needs it? It’s not just Muslims and it’s not just women who need help, many other recent arrivals could benefit.

We recently had some building and improvement work done in our house. The Housing Association awarded the contract to a local building company who subcontracted some of the work to other, smaller builders in the area. The guys who came to my house were very nice but barely spoke English at all which made things more than a little difficult.  It would have been very helpful if they could have had the opportunity to attend English improvement lessons before they started working in people’s houses but they never had the chance. And they still wouldn’t have had the chance even if this new £20m initiative had been in place.

Why?

Because they were not women.

They were Eastern European men.

They may have been Muslim, there was no way of telling and I didn’t ask but they were definitely men.

Thanks to the cuts Mr Cameron has previously made to ESOL provision in this country, there are now few lessons they could attend. There is ever decreasing help available for new arrivals who need to learn our language. What are people supposed to do, learn by osmosis? As far as I can see, it would appear so. Our local college in Lambeth has had to halve it’s ESOL provision over the last few years and this appears to be a story which is the same at colleges nationwide. Demand is there, provision is not.

In 2008 the Government spent £230 million on ESOL provision in the UK. By 2013 this figure had been reduced to £130 million and is set to fall by a further £90 million after the cuts that were made last summer.As a result ESOL participation has fallen by 22%. The demand is still there, some courses have waiting lists of over a thousand people, it’s money and investment that is lacking.

So will this new promise of £20 million help? Probably. A bit anyway. Some women will get a chance, as long as they are Muslim, but men and non-Muslims will have to go on suffering in silence because they don’t speak English..

And that seems, to me, to be discriminatory.

I don’t often say that a policy appears to discriminate against men, it’s usually women, but in this instance men seem to be losing out. As for the Muslim thing, what about other faiths? Or people of no faith at all? Don’t they need to be able to speak English too? According to Mr Cameron It would appear not and that is very unfair. Give everyone who needs it a chance, not just one gender and one specific belief system.

If we want immigrants to be able to contribute their skills and taxes into the national pot then we need to let them be on a level playing field with other workers. Cutting ESOL provision is a short term saving that will backfire in the long term and to focus exclusively on one gender and one faith is wrong and discriminatory to everyone else who could benefit who doesn’t fit the narrow criteria for help. Have some classes that are for women only if that is what people want and what makes them most comfortable but make sure the money is properly distributed so that as many people as possible can be helped. Current plans do not make sense and seem to have been badly thought out. Go back to the drawing board Mr Cameron and try again. You could do so much better. Stop playing with our money and invest it where it will benefit the most number of new arrivals of both genders and all faiths. If you do this properly it will, ultimately, benefit the whole country as well.