Meeting the Challenges of Breastfeeding in the 21st Century

Opening Address by Anwar Fazal, Chairperson of the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) at Second WABA Global Forum - Nurturing the Future: Challenges to Breastfeeding in the 21st Century, on 23 September 2002, Arusha, Tanzania.

Asalmaliakum! May peace be upon you!

Peace is a many splendoured word. In a world wrecked by war mongering, it is a word that we must sing from our hearts. We must sing about peace in all its three dimensions –

  • Peace with ourselves (inner peace)
  • Peace with other people  (social peace)
  • Peace with the environment (earth peace).

In too many places, and so often, this peace is shattered, evaporated and destroyed.

We hear of a war on terror and we hear of crimes against humanity.

Yet yesterday, today, tomorrow, everyday it is estimated that because mothers are not empowered, neither protected nor supported to breastfeed, then babies -3000 to 4000 children die everyday  - not in an isolated incident, but everyday.

And every month the resulting death toll is equivalent to that from the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 when the most horrible of weapons of mass destruction were used.

And every year we are talking of one to 1.5 million lives wasted.

The late Dr Cicely Williams who gave so much of her life to Africa called the pervasive subversion of breastfeeding by the milk companies nothing short of “murder”. We can say that wasting lives in such numbers by the systematic undermining of this God-given gift is nothing less than a crime against humanity. And it is destroying a valuable part of our future.

The joy and power of breastfeeding is one of the great universal resources  - the first food of a new born life. It’s like a beautiful flower with five petals  - giving life  - saving medicines, unbeatable nutrition, and representing good economics, good ecology and deep love. 

But like a flower, it is fragile and needs to be protected, promoted and supported.

Today we, the breastfeeding advocates of the world from over 70 countries, meet in this cradle of civilisation, this continent, Africa where we are reminded deep down we are all Africans. We meet in this special place to remind us about the challenge of nurturing, one of civilisation’s greatest assets and gifts, the nourisher of life’s beginnings - breastfeeding.

Today we meet in the foothills of your tallest mountains to remind us of the hard climb in meeting the challenges ahead of us. Let me say a few words on just three of them.

  1. Firstly, in the challenge of an unjust world where unfettered corporate-led globalisation is driven by cash register ethics and fuelled by greed. Sadly many governments and even UN systems are being trapped in unconscionable relationships. It often undermines food security and community and local enterpise.


  1. Secondly, in the challenge of destructive diseases – lives being denied and destroyed  because an unjust world  so ineptly deals with the AIDS pandemic  and other mass communicated diseases that devastate  young and innocent lives.


  1. Thirdly, is the challenge of a polluted world where “toxic terrorism”, lack of  care of the environment which is undermining the survival of the very planet we live.


Each of these three challenges impact seriously in undermining the culture of breastfeeding in new and complex ways and we need to renew and to strengthen our capacity  in many ways:

·                                 Our capacity to build on the three ‘R’s  - Rights, Responsibilities and Caring Relationship that are the core of our work.

·                                 Our capacity to build on the three ‘H’s – Heart, the Head and the Hands, bringing together the passionate activists, the intellectuals and scientists and most important, “getting things done” people, the mothers, the nurses – the people who have to face the reality daily.

·                                 Our capacity to organise clear strategies on the three ‘V’s – the Villains, the Victims and the Vision being brave and angry, caring and supportive in this contest of clear goals.

·                                 Our capacity to address the three ‘I’s  - Ignorance, Incompetence and Indifference – through good information and communication, through effective capacity building and through assertive advocacy.

We have behind us a universal right, a universal code and several universal declarations and strategies.

The new challenges must see us working together like never before.

We need that to see

  • Baby-friendly healthcare facilities
  • Women-friendly workplaces
  • Community-friendly breastfeeding culture
  • A toxic free world.

We all want to see a world that moves from what has been called the HE (Hyper-exploitative) Society to the SHE (Sane, Humanistic and Ecological) world.

We want to do this to bring together under one vision many agendas, many voices and many actions that continue to see a magnificent proliferation of real results in promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding. Together with that we seek justice and survival and both good parenthood  and good planethood. Let me share with you a poem I once wrote:

Remember we are one in this

We breathe one air

We drink from one water

We rise from one ocean

And we live under one sky

Our hearts beat the same song

Our children cry the same

And the colour of our blood is red

We are all brothers and sisters.

And as one, let us make this Forum concretely empower and enrich the lives of mothers and children.

This opportunity, this week would not have been possible if not for the wonderful support of

  • Friends and partners
  • Colleagues of IBFAN, LLLI, ILCA and many others
  • Our partners in UNICEF and WHO, the Dutch government, Sida Sweden, the Commonwealth Regional Health Community Secretariat here and the Tanzanian Food and Nutrition Centre and many others.

Thank you for bringing energy into a movement that is a force for happiness in this world. As someone once said:

“As trees turn to the sun,

Babies turn to their mothers,

Such is nature’s way…”

Let us support

That way, any way,

Every way and everywhere.

Thank you.

Back to Speeches