Sustaining Breastfeeding for our Environment

The health of our planet is affected by the way babies are fed. We know that breastfeeding has overwhelmingly positive impacts on both mother and child – with long-term health effects that last a lifetime. Yet, safeguarding women’s and children’s right to breastfeeding and providing necessary support for women is also of incredible importance for our environment and in tackling climate change.

To break it down, there are a few noticeable impacts that breastfeeding has on combating climate change – when put in contrast to the use of breastmilk substitutes:

  • Reducing waste in your home from breastmilk substitutes
  • Reducing methane gas from cows that produce milk to make formula
  • Reducing industrial waste and pollution from production of breastmilk substitutes
  • Reducing fuel consumed to transport products to market
  • Reducing use of energy to heat formula and sterilize equipment
  • And in the long term – reducing energy use and waste associated with ill health and deaths of children and mothers

Yet, aren’t these points just a necessary evil for women who are not able to breastfeed? For some, yes. David Clark of UNICEF puts it into perspective for us:

“Entire sections of society mistakenly believe that large numbers of women cannot breastfeed and that formula is a necessity, and that any harm caused to the environment is a necessary evil. The breastmilk substitute industry (estimated to be worth $41.5 billion in 2012 and forecasted to double in size and reach $63.6 billion in 2017) has played a significant role in idealizing the use of their products and persuading women that they are either as good as, or better than breastfeeding.”

Like in so many other areas of our lives – especially as women – we are bombarded by marketing telling us how to look, how to behave and what life-changing decisions to make. Breastfeeding is not excluded from this. The detrimental environmental impact of breastmilk substitutes is a responsibility for all of us to bear – not mothers alone. We need to provide enabling environments, supporting policies and changed attitudes that give women the freedom to choose to breastfeed, as part of our efforts to combat climate change.

The biggest task ahead is communicating the important linkages between breastfeeding and the environment – taking the conversation about breastfeeding beyond nutrition to the impact on sustainability and women’s rights, and putting it into practice.

An example of how this is being done is through the work of Pan Asia Pacific. Their work focuses on creating a just and pesticide-free future with strong partnerships at the grassroots level – including with agricultural workers, indigenous peoples and rural women’s movements. They acknowledge that poor women from poor communities are more susceptible to pesticides, which further puts their babies at risk during pregnancy and breastfeeding. They promote women’s and children’s right to breastfeeding – yet they do so with caution, as they know the implications of working in polluted environments.

Safeguarding breastfeeding is an essential step in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals – including the targets related to climate change and our environment – and requires us to collaborate across sectors and at multiple levels. One such partnership is the Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative (BAI), which aims to raise awareness of the contribution breastfeeding can play in combatting climate change.  

“Through the Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative, UNICEF is reaching out to partners beyond the world of infant and young child feeding and this must include allies in the field of environment and climate change,” Clark explains. 

Let’s increase action by ensuring that groups working on environmental issues understand the linkages between breastfeeding and combatting climate change – making this a central part of our advocacy strategies. Advocacy must also include the normalization of breastfeeding as a sustainable way to feed babies – including the message that breastfeeding contributes to reducing our carbon footprint. New mothers and the younger generation need to be informed of the environmental impact of formula feeding in addition to receiving the support they need to choose to breastfeed.

To ensure that sustainability and environmental protection is a central part of breastfeeding advocacy we must broaden our messaging to include environmental and climate change arguments, like curbing the overuse of pesticides and fertilisers. To protect mothers and children that are the most vulnerable, we need to partner with grassroots organizations that work among poor and marginalized groups.

Lastly, the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes creates a framework for us to limit the formula feeding industry and thus safeguard our environment as well as women’s and children’s right to breastfeeding. Let’s ensure that The Code is fully implemented and monitored regularly.  

World Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1 – 7 August 2017. Celebrating collaboration and sustainability, it will focus on the need to work together to sustain breastfeeding. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has created an online platform with downloadable resources available in a range of languages to support individuals and organizations in their own campaigning and advocacy. 

One Year Later, Girls’ Voices Are As Critical as Ever In Nepal’s Earthquake Recovery Efforts

This post was written by Aparna Singh, Women LEAD’s Communication and Programs Associate, and Stephanie Arzate, Research and Communications Fellow

Imagine the longest fifty-six seconds of your life.

This is how I remember the April 25th Earthquake that struck Nepal exactly one year ago today. That Saturday morning, I was at the Women LEAD office facilitating a workshop with around fifteen girls in our year-long leadership program when the office began to shake violently. For a mere minute, we watched as the office swayed in every direction. By 11:57 AM, we emerged from the office to find that our country had changed forever, sometimes in ways that we could never imagine.

The April 25th Earthquake brought us closer to death than anything else many of us will ever experience, and unfortunately took away the lives, homes, and hopes of thousands of people. But amongst all the sorrow and pain that came from that tragic day, I remember seeing something that was truly magical. For a year, Women LEAD selects 30 high-achieving girls in the Kathmandu Valley and equips them with the skills they need to become leaders in their communities. The Nepal Earthquakes presented our program participants, or “LEADers,” with the ultimate test. After a couple of days, Women LEAD’s work resumed—albeit slightly differently—and I watched as the girls in our program, both past and present, sprung into action. 

EQ Blog Image 3
Program alumni, Sujata, distributes supplies following the 2015 Nepal Earthquakes

The leadership displayed by the girls in this devastating time was truly amazing. Women LEAD staff and alumni prepared basic supplies to distribute to the LEADers, staff and families affected by the earthquake. Two of our alumni, Reeti and Samikshya, established the “LEAD Education Relief Project,” which provided study kits to high school seniors who had lost their books during the earthquake, but were facing rapidly approaching exams. Saniya, a 2013 LEADer distributed mosquito nets and flashlights to 53 families in one of the hardest hit districts in Nepal: Sindhupalchowk. And 2012 LEADer, Sujata, launched a crowdrise campaign and raised over $500 to sponsor school uniforms, textbooks, stationery, and exam fees for 10 students affected by the earthquake. In a time when the voices and needs of many individuals were not being heard, these girls stepped up and became the inclusive, responsible leaders Nepal needed. 

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Participants collecting and distributing supplies to those in need.

When I look back on how far we’ve come since that day, I can’t help but to think about time. In fifty-six seconds, we lost over 8,000 lives. In  fifty-six seconds, centuries-old temples turned to rubble. In  fifty-six  seconds, everything changed. And yet, while the exact moment of impact was short, a year has not given us enough time to recover. Just months after the earthquake, Nepal faced a blockade that prevented a shortage of fuel, food, and vital supplies from coming into the country. It took the  National Reconstruction Association (NRA) over nine months to begin post-earthquake reconstruction effort. Women’s rights activists have urged that the NRA, which oversees the country’s rebuilding process, have more women involved to ensure the needs of women and children are heard, with little success. Meanwhile, reports have found that incidents of violence against women have increased and thousands of children, mostly girls, have been trafficked since the earthquake

In many ways, what we’ve seen a year since those devastating fifty-six seconds in Nepal has been a leadership failure. And what I’ve learned in the time since the April 25th earthquake is that women and girls must be key players in the reconstruction of our country moving forward. As Samikshya powerfully told us, “Girls’ voices in Nepal’s earthquake relief efforts are important because without their voices, the problems of many survivors cannot be heard.” Like Reeti, Samikshya, Sujata, and Saniya prove, girls’ voices in Nepal’s earthquake relief efforts are as vital as ever. 

Featured image credit: Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi / UNDP Nepal.

Originally published on Women LEAD.