Saturday, 2 May 2009

Equalities Bill - Breastfeeding Finally Included

The UK Government have finally published the proposals for the new Equality Bill.
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They've always claimed breastfeeding would be included, but it wasn't mentioned at all in any of the previous drafts. So, in the final version, it has. Mostly, I feel, because of the immense 'home goal' Harriet Harman's office scored by issuing press releases that contained inaccurate and damaging details: that it was finally going to be legal to breastfed in public in England & Wales, etc.
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Curiously, the new specs maintain the mistake that was made earlier - about breastfeeding up to six months old being 'protected' in earlier versions of the Sex Discrimination Act. As the UK Gov had failed to mention this 'protection' prior... it's an interesting thing for them to mention in this way. Maternity protection has no time limit, as such.
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It doesn't appear that there will be any 'new' protection in this Bill. I rather suspect it's about making clear the confusion from prior Bills. What is very very worrying is that it is still talking about goods and services - no mention of open public spaces. It's about making sure the provider of the goods, or service - being on the bus, being in a museum, sitting in a cafe - cannot ask you to leave. But it only covers that specific thing. Nothing you can do if the person sitting next to you abuses you.
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Yes, this statement is very welcome, as it will be clear that if someone else goes to the manager and asks someone ask you to stop, they must ignore them - and that's great. But, they've stated prior that this has been the case since 1975! It's just we'd all failed to notice, silly us.
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It does not, however, confer rights to the child. Which means it's only about breastfeeding babies, not all babies, and does not cover another caregiver of the child. So it is very much short of what we've been asking for, and falls very short of the existing Scottish legislation.
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However, that's not to say it's not very welcome, and About Bloody Time. It will be interesting to see how it pans out, as the document itself is very scarce on detail. Full text here. Second reading is on May 11th, and you can write to your MP, asking to support the Bill, on the breastfeeding element. If anyone can explain out this 2008/extra provision thing, I'd like to hear it.
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I, personally, have serious reservations. I'd like a bit more detail, please! Especially about the system of how this is administrated. Will the mother still have to collect evidence, find a lawyer and sue, or can she call the police on her mobile and they will attend to prevent her being thrown out?
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9. OFFERING NEW MOTHERS STRONGER PROTECTION WHEN BREASTFEEDING
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We want to do everything we can to support mothers who breastfeed. People are unsure of their rights and their responsibilities in this area.

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Mothers have to be confident that they can feed their baby in a café, restaurant or shop without the embarrassment of having the owner ask them to stop.

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This type of discrimination has been unlawful for women with babies of any age for more than thirty years, and the mother could challenge the owner under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. In 2008, we strengthened this Act with extra 'maternity' protection, which means that if the baby is less than six months old the mother could also challenge the owner on the grounds of her maternity.

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The Bill will make it clear that it is unlawful to force breastfeeding mothers and their babies out of places like coffee shops, public galleries and restaurants.

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This will give women confidence that the law is on their side when they are breastfeeding their babies.

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For example, the protection for new mothers could mean:

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If a woman is breastfeeding her baby on the bus she cannot be asked to get off the bus for that reason. The same would apply to a woman breastfeeding her baby in an art gallery.

3 comments:

Sundancer said...

It's not as clear as it could be, is it? I take it this means the picnic at Parliament Square is still on!

Morgan said...

Oh yes, still on. I've just gone through the bill itself, and from what I can see, nothing has changed at all. In fact, it could be a bit worse - the 26 weeks thing is mentioned. I'm trying to get clarification, but I think we're back to.. How Stupid Do They Think We Are?

Rob A said...

I wonder if this will all get thrown up in the air when the election comes along?