A breastfeeding anti-discrimination bill will be tabled at the next session of the Legislative Council as a top priority, according to a government official on Wednesday.

The proposed amendment to the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance will prohibit direct or indirect discrimination against breastfeeding mothers. Under the current ordinance, it is unlawful to discriminate against people who are responsible for the care of an immediate family member in areas including employment and education.

Photo: Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers’ Association/Facebook

On Wednesday, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip said the bill was one of the government’s top priorities. The proposed amendments will be tabled for discussion when the legislature resumes in October.

The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) told HKFP that it welcomed the move. It submitted its recommendations to the government calling for such express provisions in March.

“The EOC receives a number of complaints of discrimination by breastfeeding women who face both direct and indirect discrimination in a variety of fields. The number of women who are breastfeeding in Hong Kong has also been steadily rising over the years, making this issue increasingly important.”

Jannie Leung, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers’ Association, told HKFP that legislation is key to protecting the rights of mothers, particularly in the workplace.

“In our most recent survey on breastfeeding in Hong Kong, one respondent told us that she was only allowed to express milk at lunch. In the end, she suffered physically as her breasts were completely engorged and she had to stop breastfeeding when her baby was only 8-months old,” said Leung.

“The HKBFMA hopes that the law will include provisions for breastfeeding in public and expressing milk in the workplace. We also hope that it will provide mothers with protection against emotional abuse related to breastfeeding in general.”

In a 2016 survey, the Hong Kong Committee for the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) found that 40 per cent of mothers who had directly breastfed in public had unpleasant experiences. Of these respondents, 90 per cent said they were stared at and 30 per cent were advised to breastfeed elsewhere.

In a study published by the Department of Health in 2016 aimed at gauging public perceptions regarding breastfeeding, 89 per cent of respondents agreed that workplaces should implement measures to support mothers. As of August 1, 100 companies in Hong Kong are listed by UNICEF as promoting a breastfeeding-friendly workplace.

Jun Pang

Jun Pang is an independent writer and researcher. She has previously worked in NGOs advocating for refugees' and migrants' rights in Asia and Europe.