Larissa Waters wears a lot of hats.
She’s a trained lawyer. She’s an Australian senator representing Queensland. She’s a card-carrying member of the Australian Greens party. And just as important, she’s a mom.
Waters gave birth to her second daughter, Alia Joy, in 2017. Fortunately, the Australian parliament allows moms to bring their infants to work, so Waters was able to return to her parliamentary duties with 10-week-old Alia in tow.
In fact, in 2016 the Senate decided to legally allow women to breastfeed in Parliament. But it didn’t happen until this year, when Waters became the first woman ever to breastfeed her baby in the Senate chamber.
That was noteworthy enough. But Waters further normalized this thoroughly natural process in June 2017. She had a motion to move. And her baby was hungry.
That’s all it took for Waters to become the first woman to breastfeed her baby while giving a speech in the Australian Parliament.
Waters wasn’t trying to make any statement. She didn’t mean to take on the role of an activist, at least not in this case. She told Buzzfeed News that she chose to give the speech while breastfeeding because “black lung disease is back among coal miners in Queensland and Alia was hungry.”
Waters made a brief speech calling for action on the subject of black lung disease, an illness caused by long-term exposure to coal dust. Black lung was virtually eradicated from Australia in the 1960s, but a boom in coal mining in that nation has brought it back. Waters felt that her speech in favor of addressing the re-emergence of black lung was deeply important.
Of course, so is feeding a hungry baby.
Waters’ feeding of her baby was received in the chamber with smiles and nods of approval.
That’s a good sign for a legislative body that in 2015 ordered Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer to “express more milk to ensure she did not miss votes in Parliament,” reports the Telegraph.
Even further back, in 2009, Parliament leaders ordered Sarah Hanson-Young of the Greens to send her 2-year-old daughter out of the chamber. Hanson-Young complied, but the entire Parliament then had to listen as the panicking toddler wailed just outside the door.
These events came to a head in 2016, when Parliament agreed to change their rules and procedures.
“No member, male or female, will ever be prevented from participating fully in the operation of the Parliament by reason of having the care of a baby,” Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Of course, there’s a big difference between making the rules and enforcing them. Just by being a mom, Waters is testing Parliament’s resolve to make the chamber more family friendly. So far, it seems to be working.
So just how long do we have to wait for common-sense family rules in other democracies? Waters may be more than a senator and a mom.
She might be the tip of the spear, signaling a change to a more family-friendly approach to governing all over the world. Here’s hoping.