Bangladesh‘s High Court has ordered the government to explain why it has not made more provision for breastfeeding mothers in public spaces and workplaces, saying a failure to do so may be unconstitutional.
The court said the government’s failure to ensure proper provision for breastfeeding could violate “the right to life”, giving it four weeks to respond.
“If you can allocate spaces for smoking, why can’t you have rooms for breastfeeding. It won’t cost much,” said lawyer Ishrat Hassan, who filed the petition that led to the court’s ruling.
Kamrun Nahar, a senior women’s ministry official, said it was already government policy to create breastfeeding rooms, which already existed in several places.
But the court said they should be in private shopping malls, airports, bus stands and railway stations, also calling for childcare provision in workplaces.
Hassan said she realised the need for such spaces when her own baby started crying when she was at an airport.
“There was nowhere I could go to. I felt helpless. In the end, I requested the security to let me use the enclosure where they screen female passenger to feed my child,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Mothers@Work, a United Nations-backed initiative to support maternity rights and promote breastfeeding in Bangladesh’s garment industry, has said companies face high levels of dropout and absenteeism among new mothers on the workforce.
Only about one in four Bangladeshi women of working age is employed – a higher proportion than in neighbouring India, thanks largely to the large numbers working in garment factories, but lower than China, Indonesia and the Philippines.
“In terms of living in a safe or friendly environment for women, we are definitely behind,” said Maleka Banu, general secretary of the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, a women’s rights group.
The court did not say what its next steps would be. But it has the power to direct the government to act – and Hassan said she was confident it would do so.