Katherine Houng is the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) Youth Initiative Coordinator. WABA is a global network of individuals and organizations concerned with the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding worldwide.
From 1-7 August 2011, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and breastfeeding advocates in more than 170 countries worldwide celebrated World Breastfeeding Week for the 19th year with the theme “Talk to Me! Breastfeeding – a 3D Experience”.
As global exclusive breastfeeding rates continue to rise, we may wonder – why talk about breastfeeding? Isn’t it a normal, physiological process? The reality is that most talk is confined within the healthcare spheres. This year, WABA’s call to action was for breastfeeding advocates to reach beyond these borders, in new ways, and to encourage traditionally un-involved parties, such as young people, to join in celebrating and promoting World Breastfeeding Week.
This year’s celebration was spearheaded by some of the breastfeeding movement’s newest faces along with several veteran champions. In association with the UN International Year of Youth, WABA commissioned myself, a recent college graduate new to breastfeeding advocacy, and other youth who attended the Global Breastfeeding Partners Forum in October 2010, to carry out the UN’s call to action to "create awareness, mobilize and engage, connect and build bridges across generations, cultures, religions, and civilizations” regarding breastfeeding.
Youth (ages 15-24, but up to age 40 in some countries) account for about 18% of the world’s population and are therefore an invaluable ally to have in any public health movement.
This year's them "Breastfeeding a 3D experience” is about looking at the dimensions of our lives- things happen at a time and place, but communication is what makes our experiences so robust. Using our voices, we can talk to others about why breastfeeding matters, not only for health and well-being, but also for the environment, for women’s rights, and for social advancement. We wanted to bring the dialogue to life and make this year’s World Breastfeeding Week a truly “3D” experience – an opportunity for outreach, an investment in a healthy future, and a unifying lens through which to see the world.
To commemorate the end of World Breastfeeding Week, we called on communities across the world to mobilize their networks and join together in a Feed the Future! Flashmob to support breastfeeding.
In Penang, Malaysia, myself and a few coworkers collaborated with local musicians Dhanen Mahes (Ksatriya) and Samwise Wee Kee to create a hip and powerful original song called Stand Up Everybody that calls on people to listen and take notice of how breastfeeding has been distorted by sexual connotations and major milk powder and baby food companies unethically marketing their products to mothers. Choreographed by Aida Redza, the strong movements were symbolic gestures of shielding oneself from the dissuaders around us. The last line of the song “…time to take your breasts back!” is about reclaiming breasts for what they’re meant for - breastfeeding. It’s not just a woman’s responsibility, but her extended network that provides moral and physical support.
We then commissioned a videographer to record our tutorial video and dance. The videos quickly spread through WABA’s network and people wrote in from all over the world telling us how much they loved the music and dance and would use it in their own WBW celebrations.
Click here to watch the Flashmob video on YouTube.
Over the course of 1 month, we mobilized people in Penang through schools (primary to university level), various organizations, dance studios, companies, etc and recruited over 150 dancers ranging in age, ethnicity, and gender. The Feed the Future! Flashmob was fun and invigorating way to involve the entire community to support and normalize breastfeeding. It sought to bring a clear message into a public arena – breastfeeding is natural and normal! The mosaic of faces, ethnicities, ages, and genders in the flashmob reflected exactly what this year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme is all about.
No matter what age you are, or where you are from, you have the ability to empower others to rally for a cause. As a young breastfeeding advocate, I’ve found that education and collaboration have helped me tremendously in my work with fellow young people. I’m so grateful to WABA for this incredible opportunity to share my vision with you all. Happy International Year of the Youth!