12 January 2009
Breastfeeding - An Obligation for / on Indonesian Women
In order to increase the numbers of mothers who breast feed their children, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Labor and Transmigration, and the State Minister for the Empowerment of Women have issued a Joint Ministerial Regulation that sets out the provisions for women who are wanting to breast feed their children at the office and during office hours. This addition to the legislative framework was not entirely unexpected.
Interestingly, the regulation states that every mother is under an obligation to provide breast milk to their children. It is not entirely clear as to whether the government intends to sanction women who do not or cannot breast feed their children. I am guessing that they won't. Even more interesting is that the regulation states that there is a period of time where children are to be fed exclusively breast milk.
My understanding is that some mothers just do not produce enough milk themselves to satisfy the voracious appetites of their newborns or just are physically incapable of breastfeeding. For this reason the characterization of the need to breast feed and to do so exclusively would seem to unnecessarily stigmatize those that cannot.
The premise of the regulation is that breast milk and breast feeding are crucial to the physical, mental, spiritual, and intellectual development of children. The spiritual angle is an intriguing one. I guess if breasts are your thing then it is possible that the experience might be a spiritual one for you. However, I am not sure that it is all that spiritual an experience for a new born.
Furthermore, it seems that the Ministers have collectively realized that most Indonesian office environments are not very new mother or family friendly. And, if the government is going to characterize breast feeding as an obligation on women then it makes good sense to put into place legislation that allows for this obligation to be met.
Under the regulation each of the Ministers is tasked with specific functions. For example, the State Minister of Women's Empowerment is tasked with socializing and providing knowledge to new mothers regarding the benefits of breast feeding. The Minister of Labor and Transmigration, for example, is tasked with working with employers and employee representatives with a view to establishing guidelines and agreements to facilitate the opportunity for nursing mothers to breast feed at the office and during office hours. The Minister of Health is tasked with creating and implementing training and education programs for new and nursing mothers.
For employers and employees the impact of this regulation conceivably has some wide-ranging and long-term impacts on office life in Indonesia. Initially, it would seem that employers are going to have to incur some costs in setting up designated spaces in order for employees who are new or nursing mothers to fulfill their breast feeding obligations.
Therefore, it seems a foregone conclusion that work environments are going to become increasingly more family friendly. This might lead to the establishment of in-house child care facilities so that mothers do not have to take considerable chunks of time out of the office to go home and feed their newborns. With Jakarta's notoriously nasty traffic it is likely that for a mother to leave the office, go home, feed their child, and get back to the office, maybe three or four hours have been lost.
Employers, rather than incur the expense of a more family friendly environment, will be more likely to marginalize female employees who get pregnant by restructuring the work environment so that when the period of maternity leave is finished there is no position for the new mother to return to. It will be interesting to see how the Ministers and the government deal with this kind of eventuality.
So, in that sense the regulation is interesting on a number of different levels, as it opens the doors to all sorts of possibilities. Some good and some not so good possibilities could arise in the future. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that there might be more legislative developments in this area before the year is out.
Finally, this post lends itself to the gratuitous posting of a picture.