In 1991, UNICEF hosted a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) planning meeting in New York to follow up on the landmark Innocenti Declaration – a declaration that calls on governments to create an enabling environment for women to practice exclusive breastfeeding – via the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding.
The Innocenti Declaration was adopted by 32 governments and 10 UN agencies (at the UNICEF/WHO meeting that was co-sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) on 1st August 1991 – a date that has been commemorated annually as the start of World Breastfeeding Week (WBW).
It was realised that in order to achieve targets set by the Innocenti Declaration, a strategic coordinated global effort is required among the many players to bring about social change.
This resulted in the birth of World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). WABA was created on 14th February 1991, at the UNICEF headquarters in New York, USA, as an umbrella network of organisations and individuals who believe that breastfeeding is the right of children and mothers and who dedicate themselves to protecting, promoting and supporting these rights.
The historic founding meeting of WABA had the full support of UNICEF which led to an intense partnership in that year. WABA provided a platform for researchers, mother support groups, trainers, health care professionals, development workers, leading international experts in infant and young child feeding, policy makers and grassroots activists – to come together as a “mega alliance” in order to encourage every sector including UN agencies and national governments to commit to promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding.
At the very onset, WABA’s goals were to re-establish and maintain a global breastfeeding culture, to eliminate all obstacles to breastfeeding, to promote regional and national cooperation and to advocate for breastfeeding in the development, women, environment and human rights fora. Since its inception and as a people’s movement, WABA acts as an open, encompassing and enabling structure that works on the principle of respecting the independence and autonomy of participating groups and individuals. To this end, WABA plays a multitude of roles and has been aptly described as a hub, incubator, accelerator, multiplier and catalyst.
The current Core Partners of WABA are:
WABA realised that it could not only focus on the breastfeeding stratosphere in order to achieve its goals. It had to reach out to other movements and networks to garner vital support with particular focus on women, environment, food security, sustainable development and human rights.
WABA developed an action tool on the Ten Links for Nurturing the Future – it elaborates key issues vital to restoring a breastfeeding culture and to ensure the rights of women and children to food security.
The Ten Links comprise of:
The best way to showcase WABA’s amazing journey is to look at its flagship campaign – the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) – celebrated every year from 1st – 7th August in over 170 countries. As part of its action plan to facilitate and strengthen social mobilisation for breastfeeding, WABA envisioned a global unifying breastfeeding promotion strategy. What started as an idea to commemorate the Innocenti Declaration in 1991 has turned into an annual campaign which WABA successfully coordinates and organises for the past 21 years. Each year, the theme of WBW is carefully selected based on considerations for the year. The themes are discussed and debated yearly at great lengths by the WABA Steering Committee, Core Partners, Task Forces and Regional Focal Points during the Global Breastfeeding Partners Meetings (GBPM).
Key writers selected for their expertise/specialisation in specific themes/areas generate creative action ideas to shine the global spotlight on important issues. The global community can then address these issues, create awareness then take action.
It is worth noting the themes of all WBW celebrations to get a sense of the varied dimensions involved in breastfeeding. This includes health care systems, women’s employment, women’s work, marketing practices of breastmilk substitute companies, national laws and practices on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, community action, ecology, economy, science, education and human rights. This World Breastfeeding Week, WABA calls for concerted global action to support women to combine breastfeeding and work. Whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, it is necessary that she is empowered in claiming her and her baby’s right to breastfeed. Visit our webpage here.
Lastly, WABA’s effort to protect, promote and support breastfeeding would be futile without advocacy by various groups/movements involved in breastfeeding nationally, regionally and internationally. WABA and its core partners have dialogued, campaigned and developed tools to increase awareness on breastfeeding and the various key issues to bring about an enabling environment for mothers to breastfeed their babies. This is an ongoing process as new challenges come in changing realities within countries.
Find out more about WABA here.