Rights for whom? Linking baby’s right to eat with economic, social, and cultural rights for women
Breastfeeding women are primary food producers par excellence, delivering a custom-made product to fit the exact needs of a favoured clientele. The importance of breastmilk as a first food has been acknowledged in recent years by many states, which have taken measures to protect and encourage breastfeeding in acknowledgment of the World Health Organization’s 2002 Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding. Within both state and grassroots efforts to promote it, breastfeeding is often framed in terms of “rights,” though it is not always clear what these entail. This perspective article considers the role of breastmilk as a critical food for children that ensures their “right to the highest attainable standard of health” as articulated in Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and interrogates mothers’ (and others’) role in providing it. While food studies, and even more so, food security scholarship and activism should incorporate breastfeeding scholarship, it should avoid the mistake of framing breastfeeding as a “choice” made by individual women. This article advocates incorporating breastfeeding into the right to food/food security agenda by explicitly supporting measures that increase women’s access to broader economic, social, and cultural (ESC) rights. This, in turn, would put breastfeeding within reach, as an option, for more women. Thus breastfeeding becomes more likely and pressure is diverted from individual mothers and the often false ‘choice’ to breastfeed.