We won’t get real equality until we price breastmilk, and treat breastfeeding as work

The Australian Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce delivered a major report last month drawing attention to what it called the “motherhood penalty” – the 55% cut in earnings for Australian women in the first five years after having a child.

The report makes many good recommendations, including extending paid parental leave to 52 weeks and providing universal high-quality affordable early childhood education.

Yet it mentions “birth” only twice, and “breastfeeding” not at all.

Women everywhere do disproportionate amounts of unpaid or informal work, meaning they generally work longer hours and have less time for rest and leisure than men.

The approach the Taskforce report adopts is a standard one to “recognise, reduce, and redistribute” the care work done by women.

But in a paper just published in Frontiers in Public Health we argue that breastfeeding is different from other care work: it can’t be redistributed, and shouldn’t be reduced.

We contend that breastfeeding ought to be recognised as a special category of “sexed” care work that should be supported rather than reduced or reallocated to others. We argue that to undermine women’s breastfeeding is profoundly sexist.

At present, a drop in breastfeeding rates that leads to increased commercial formula sales is counted as an increase in measured GDP – making it look as if it has made society better off. The cost to women’s health, children’s health and development and the environment is ignored.

The Mothers’ Milk Tool developed at the Australian National University is a step toward counting breastfeeding in the national food supply, as Norway does, and making it easy to calculate the value of the milk mothers and countries produce in gross domestic product (GDP).

The contribution that women make through breastfeeding is important. Brushing it under the carpet as part of a drive for equality in paid work harms them, their children and society more generally.

Source: We won’t get real equality until we price breastmilk, and treat breastfeeding as work

One thought on “We won’t get real equality until we price breastmilk, and treat breastfeeding as work”

  1. The lives of cattle have improved immeasurably since a price was put on cow’s milk.

    The commodification of women’s reproductive services—women as chattels, traded as (and for) cattle—is a patriarchal relic of even greater antiquity than the monetary system of capitalist accumulation.

    Contribution to GDP is an extremely dubious (ecologically suspect) measure of women’s worth.

    Pull the udder one.

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