Let me break the happy-happy-joy-joy tone of my blog for one post. Below is a letter I am addressing to the management of SM Supermalls, following some very disturbing reports of breastfeeding mothers being harassed by the mall’s security guards.
Background: Paola Loot, head mommy of Mommy Treats, received a report from one of her clients, Mona Lisa Valle, that she was told to stop breastfeeding in public last December 3, 2011. Mona was sitting at the tables of a doughnut shop, waiting for her husband, and needed to breastfeed her baby. No stranger to breastfeeding in public, she did so without much thought.
As she was nursing, a security guard approached her and said, “Ma’am meron po tayong breastfeeding station. Doon po kayo magbreastfeed.” (Ma’m there is a breastfeeding station, please breastfeed there) To which she replied, “Alam kong may breastfeeding station. pero sa kabilang building pa yun. May hinihintay kasi kami. May problema ba?” (I know there is a breastfeeding station but it’s at the other building. We’re just waiting for someone. Is there a problem?)
Here’s the disturbing reply of the guard:
“Bawal po kasi magbreastfeed in public ma’am kaya nga may mga itinayong breastfeeding station ang SM para doon magbreastfeed.” (It is forbidden to breastfeed in public, ma’m, that is why SM put up a breastfeeding station so you can breastfeed there)
This was done in full view of everyone in the vicinity and it became a spectacle. In Mona’s words, “all people were staring at me as if I was a shoplifter or a criminal…he made me feel I did something terribly wrong”.
So here is my letter.
To the Management of SM Supermalls:
I have long been a fan of your establishments. Not only is a trip to an SM mall a convenient shopping experience where everything is under one roof, I also like that the bathrooms are child-friendly, equipped with changing stations, and that there are ramps everywhere for strollers. I also like that you promoted breastfeeding by establishing breastfeeding stations that not only serve their purpose, but also stand as a symbol that mothers and their nurslings are welcome in SM.
On Tuesday, December 6, 2011, Paola Loot, Noemi Dado, Nona Andaya-Castillo and myself visited the administration office of SM Megamall to report an incident of a mother being asked to cease breastfeeding in public by your security staff. She was told that breastfeeding in public was NOT ALLOWED in SM Malls and the purpose of the breastfeeding station was so that she can and should breastfeed there. We left our contact information with the people who entertained us. I told them that I will wait for their reply. The people we spoke to had no clue about any existing briefing, policy or guidelines about breastfeeding mothers. They were also clueless about the existence of the Expanded Breastfeeding Act, the law promoting and protecting the rights of breastfeeding mothers.
At first I thought that it could’ve been an isolated incident, the mistake of one guard ignorant of how to approach a nursing mother or of the SM breastfeeding stand. But then we received two more reports of similar incidents: one in SM San Pablo and one in SM Davao. Both reports were the same as the one we received recently. Both mothers were told that breastfeeding in public WAS NOT ALLOWED in SM Malls and they SHOULD use the breastfeeding station.
What I really want to know are:
- What is SM Supermalls’ stand and policy on breastfeeding in public?
- How are your security staff briefed on how to approach breastfeeding mothers?
- Is there a written policy in your security handbook saying that breastfeeding mothers should be asked to STOP BREASTFEEDING in public?
I personally am disappointed, angered, and insulted by the reported incidents. As a breastfeeding mother, counselor and advocate, I know that it is hard enough for mothers to successfully breastfeed in the comforts of our own homes. Being harassed for breastfeeding in public, which takes courage for a lot of mothers out there, is something that is not helping the cause, and is something that is actually a hindrance to a mother’s right to give her child the best nourishment she can give.
I am waiting for the management’s response on the serious matter above, and I am hoping we can work on ways to reorient your staff and your security. I’m hoping this can be resolved and I still have faith that SM will listen and take steps to correct and educate their people. I am banking on all the awards and commendations your establishments have received for the SM Breastfeeding Program to do so.
- It is every woman’s right to breastfeed her child anywhere and anytime.
- Whether she bares her breast or uses a cover is HER CHOICE.
- No one has the right to tell a breastfeeding mother to go elsewhere to breastfeed or to cover herself because she is being offensive.
I still believe SM will listen. Their efforts to make their establishments family-friendly are commendable so far. I’m hoping they will not let us down, and that they will live up to the awards and commendations they’ve received from the Anvil Awards, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Department of Health for the SM Breastfeeding Program.
If you or a friend have ever experienced being harassed for breastfeeding in public and would like to share your experience, please leave me a message through my Contact Form. I will keep your identity confidential if you wish, but I do invite you to step up and speak out. Have courage, because you are not alone.
This is far from over.