Nurturing the Future - Challenges in the 21st Century

Keynote Address by Anwar Fazal, Chairperson, World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) at the National Brazilian Breastfeeding Conference, on 23-26 July 2001  at Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.

Speaking about breastfeeding to so many experts on breastfeeding makes me feel like actress Elizabeth Taylor and her fifth husband on their wedding night - everything has been done before, so how can I make it interesting!

The difference is by love and passion. Breastfeeding is for us a love affair. It is a passionate affair.

All over the world there has been a magnificent proliferation of this love and passion for breastfeeding - for protecting, promoting and  supporting it.

Today  I want to share with you, WABA love stories and about our passions,  about how we bring together the family of breastfeeding groups all over the world  - local and global, IBFANers and La Leche Leaguers, scientists and activists, feminists and environmentalists and many others together in this love affair and how we generate the passion and how we create this force of happiness and this rainbow of  civil society.

Sisters and brothers, let me first say “Assalamulaikum” which in my spiritual tradition means “peace be on all of you”. I start with the world “peace” because it is the most important, most relevant word during these times.

Peace is simple to dream and yet difficult to achieve, but we must always dream and dare the three aspects of peace - the triangle of peace:

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

Today unfortunately, we live in a world where the peace is often severely shattered and destroyed. We  see the use of the evil forces of violence,  waste and of manipulation. We see social injustice. We see the economics of greed and the environment recklessly destroyed. It was as bad as slavery and it was as bad as colonialism.

If we want an example, one powerful example, of a gift of nature, a gift of God, undermined by this evil forces of violence, waste and manipulation it must surely be the way breastfeeding was undermined this last century and how it continues to do so in new subtle ways. Some 1.5 million lives are destroyed  each year  (4000 each day) because of greed and injustice that undermine breastfeeding.

Our struggle is a long one. We have to have the vision - like the two bricklayers - one says he is laying the bricks, the other says we are building a school!

Our struggle is also a structural one. We need to think of the fundamental roots of the injustice and violence - we have not to be satisfied with saving babies that are drowning in the river, we have to look upstream to challenge those who are throwing babies into the river.

Every struggle, our love affair and passion with breastfeeding, must be clear in fundamentals - why, what, who, how and when. I would like to share with you two symbols of love and passion of beauty and hope that can help in sustaining the power and the strength of  the breastfeeding movement.

I want to share with you a beautiful flower with five petals, and a bright star with five points. 

The flower is about the power of breastfeeding and the five petals are representing the five vital forces of breastfeeding:

1.       Medicine - we are continuously amazed at the powerful medical properties of breastmilk and immunities that breastfeeding provides.

2.       Nutrition - breastfeeding is the first food security so self sufficient  for the first six months.

3.       Ecology  - it is the natural way, saving the environment, waste, fuel, land and plastics.

4.       Economic - it is economical and free.

5.       Love - the special bonding is a unique experience.

We have to remind ourselves about this beautiful flower and let it bloom. This way we will never forget our fundamentals and our faith.

The star is about hope and power and making change - the five-pointed star represents:

·         The power of “one` - never underestimate the power of a single individual. Through their examples and their action, individuals have changed the world. For WABA in Brazil there have been many special people like that creative, caring, committed, competent - people like  Denise Arcoverde, who brought Internet to WABA, Siomara who coordinates WABA-Brazil, one of our best models, and Gabriela Carvalho who put so much teeth into  WABA work in Brazil. The breastfeeding movement is full of miracle workers.

·         The power of  “many” - networking , alliance and partnerships give us the strength of each other´s numbers and skills.

·         The power of the “halo” - drawing not only from our spiritual traditions but also the global codes and resolutions by the United Nations that have given us universal standards, e.g. the WHO code, ILO standards.

·         The power of “information” - access to good research, education programmes, good communication strategies and popular mobilisation skills are fundamental to make transformative  change. Use of the new information technologies  - Internet - is going to be a new frontier of challenge.

·         The power of “success” - every victory however small must be shared and celebrated. Good work inspires more good work. That is why WABA is celebrating its 10th Anniversary here in Brazil where much good work have been done.

The 21st Century will make it ever more necessary that we remember the flower and the star. With globalisation and the World Trade Organization, new threats to breastfeeding are expected. The corporations are transforming themselves into “life science” companies and are playing with life and much fire in the area of genetic modification and cloning. The challenge of the AIDS epidemic and the toxins in our environment impose new burdens on our bodies. We have to work proactively, more cooperatively and with more science and ethics than ever before.

WABA has launched a framework of action  The Ten Links that provides a comprehensive framework for our struggle. It is available in Portuguese language. It talks about 10 key strategic areas for all of us to address:

  • Promoting human rights and responsibilities
  • Ensuring food security
  • Fostering women`s empowerment
  • Ensuring community participation
  • Creating baby-friendly cultures
  • Addressing integrity issues especially in sponsorships and advertisements to the health professionals
  • Promoting the International Code in regulating breastmilk substitutes
  • Capacity building
  • Advocacy
  • Networking.

Protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding will be a long and constant struggle. We have to be alert, strong and to be together.

Remember the triangle of peace. Remember the five petal flower of the power of breastfeeding; remember the five point star of power and hope and remember the framework  of the Ten Links. They will help us to nurture a better future. They can help us meet the challenges of the 21st century.

In conclusion I would like to share a poem by the Latin American poet, Isabel Parra:

“Just as children never tire of play

And the condor never tires of flight

So the people will never give up the struggle

Although the days go by

Although the years go by

The kindred flame

Will never die...”

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