Breastfeeding,what’s the big deal?
Yesterday and today I am attending my second Group Savings and Loan Association (GSLA) training, but this session at Ulimi SACCO had a different focus. We are training a group of community opinion leaders so they can return to their villages and facilitate the start up of GSLAs and foster their success.
I was pleased to see that of the 30 participants, 17 of them were women, and 5 of those women had brought their babies with them. Now this isn’t an uncommon sight in Malawi, but as a Canadian I can’t help but compare how so many women in North America would miss personal growth and community development opportunities like this because they “can’t find a sitter.”
Women play a key role in the growth of a community and I don’t just mean that literally through reproduction. It has been statistically proven that where women are actively involved, enterprises are almost always more successful. All of the Canadian Co-operative Association’s international projects must have a gender element (in addition to other standards) to ensure programs are viable and inclusive.
There is a big difference between “gender equality” and “gender equity”. Equality means having the same things… anyone can ‘have’ something, but can they utilize and truly access it? This brings me back to my point about the women bringing their youngsters to the board room with them.
17 women of influence within a 50km radius were gathered here today, and there is no doubt in my mind that there are more like them wishing for a spot around the table. But no matter how much change they can evoke in their community – they are first and foremost mothers.
Everyone around the table is engaged. They are taking notes, participating in discussions and they are committed to making the most of their facilitator training, after all they each feel personally responsible for the financial future of their neighbours.
Sure, inspirational right?
What’s more inspirational is that these women are empowered to be engaged while being free to embrace motherhood and leadership. Babies hungry? Boob comes out. Right at the board room table. Never mind a nursing bra or blanket, there is nothing to be ashamed about here. The mothers are welcome to breastfeed and still participate in the discussion. After all, they are mothers and we’ve all needed the nourishment of breast milk during infancy.
Once the babies are fed, depending on their age they may play quietly on the floor, mummering softly or curiously staring down the mzungus or they may fall fast asleep in which case mama bends forward at a 90 degree angle, lays the baby belly down on her back and then wraps baby up in a cloth, one end of the cloth over mom’s shoulder, one end under and tied in the front along collar bone where the baby will probably remain snuggly napping against her back as the mother again takes her seat at the table. If mom’s arms get tired of cradling, there’s usually another woman happy to rock the baby to sleep.
This all occurs so naturally that even in a room with 35 people, no one is distracted from the session. In fact, if the woman has something to add to the discussion, or a question to ask, even with a baby on her breast she will stand and state her point.
Why, in North America, is motherhood a hindrance to a woman’s professional development? Sure there are women who certainly juggle both, but it’s not easy for them, nor are ‘we’ welcoming about it.
I am guilty of rolling my eyes at the grocery store while parents push their wailing kids up and down every isle. I think of my mom marching me out to the car telling me to knock it off and at the same time I feel pity for these mothers that are just trying to run their households while their brats are begging for a kinder surprise.
I think partially I’ll give credit to parenting – the kids here don’t whine. Seriously. Not even the babies. I have a cousin back home with a blessed baby boy who also is not a whiner. I am thankful for these babies and their mothers, particularly when grocery shopping… okay I digress.
What I’m getting at is the women, the mothers, the action takers and change makers should be welcome, child in tow, to any opportunity the rest of us are. I sometimes joke that I could never be a mother, I’m too career driven and truthfully I just wouldn’t know what to do with a wailing, teething, hungry, smelly, slobbering baby. Maybe Malawi will change that for me.
Malawi and Ulimi SACCO have already changed my perception of gender equity, and if women who have virtually nothing can have both a career and a family than why can’t North Americans who buy their food instead of growing it and who have machines to do the laundry and dishes?