How Parliaments are catering for lawmaker mothers, kids

Many countries are making their Parliaments friendlier for children, parents

July 15, 2018 07:48 pm | Updated 07:49 pm IST - WELLINGTON

No bar for babies:  A file photo of Denmark’s member of the EU Parliament, Hanne Dahl, right,  with her baby.

No bar for babies: A file photo of Denmark’s member of the EU Parliament, Hanne Dahl, right, with her baby.

When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern returns to Parliament after becoming only the second elected leader in the world to have a baby in office, her daughter will be allowed to cuddle with her during debates and swim in the pool.

Such access, almost non-existent even a year ago, spotlights a push by many countries to make their Parliaments friendlier for children and their parents, as legislatures diversify and rules that can be surprisingly hostile to new parents are eased.

Boosting diversity

“I think we didn’t do a good enough job,” said Trevor Mallard, the speaker of New Zealand’s Parliament, who can be seen from time to time holding infants for members while he oversees heated debate. “For mothers... I just want to make it clear to them that we are going to be as friendly as possible towards their babies.”

Such steps aim to help boost diversity in Parliament and accommodate a baby boom since last September’s election, when two women Labour members with infants took up their seats, while Ms. Ardern and the Minister for women, Julie Anne Genter, announced their pregnancies early this year.

Progress is patchy, despite images of members of Parliament feeding their babies in Australia and Canada going viral on social media in recent years.

Many legislatures, including Britain’s House of Commons, do not allow babies in, which offers a challenge for any breastfeeding mothers among the lawmakers, whose day often starts early and ends late, with few breaks.

In November, for instance, Japanese lawmaker Yuka Ogata was ordered to leave a Municipal Assembly after she brought in her seven-month-old son to highlight the difficulties of juggling a career and children.

Political parties around the world are grappling with the fallout of keeping babies out of legislatures, particularly when a parent’s presence is crucial to ensure the desired outcome of a vote.

For example, in April, a historic last-minute change to the rules of the U.S. Senate allowed Senator Tammy Duckworth to bring her newborn daughter, Maile, with her to vote against President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the NASA space agency.

In New Zealand, men are also allowed to bring their infants into the debating chamber. Some Parliaments are considering alternatives like offering parental leave, including for men.

New Zealand’s Parliament has allowed mothers to bring babies into the debating chamber to feed them, but the Speaker expanded that rule to allow young children to be present at any time to bond with their parents. Ms. Ardern gave birth to her first child, Neve Te Aroha, on June 21. She was the first pregnant elected leader to do so since Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in 1990.

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