SOKENDAI Review of Cultural and Social Studies


vol.20 (2024)

Power Actions Regarding Women’s Bodies
and Breastfeeding:

Case Study of Breastfeeding Promotion Sites
for Low-Income Women in Urban Venezuela


Department of Comparative Studies,
School of Cultural and Social Studies,
The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, SOKENDAI

Key words:

Venezuela, breastfeeding, breastfeeding promotion, women’s bodies, power

Breastfeeding promotion systems and policies in the field of public health are expanding in Venezuela. Previous research regarding breastfeeding promotion focused on identifying and resolving the factors that hinder breastfeeding. Women’s bodies that are breastfeeding are affected by social forces, such as social norms and conventions; however, previous studies have mostly ignored these social forces, unless they are those which help promote breastfeeding, such as acquisition of medical knowledge.

This study focuses on breastfeeding among low-income women in urban Venezuela from the perspective of forces acting on their bodies as power, and clarifies what and how power relations exist between women’s bodies and breastfeeding in the process of shaping breastfeeding practices. Thus, it seeks to present a new perspective on the elements that constitute breastfeeding women’s decision-making.

The first part of this study examines how women’s bodies and breastfeeding are perceived in Venezuela, focusing on the powers that emerge from cultural values and social structures. We found that several powers were simultaneously acting on women’s bodies, such as the patriarchy-based norm that “women’s bodies are subordinate to men” and the feminist enlightenment against this. It was also clarified that women reinforced the norm, by internalizing and repeating it in their actions.

The second part analyses the discourses used by the government to implement its breastfeeding policy. Three discourses were identified: “breast milk as the best source of nutrition for infant health,” “breastfeeding as a right of mother and child,” and “breastfeeding as an important element of food security.” These discourses were influenced by the political and social context of the time, with varying degrees of emphasis.

The third part examines the power that exists in the field of breastfeeding promotion based on participatory observation and interviews with breastfeeding promoters. The results revealed that, in addition to the discourses of the medical and maternalistic models focused on in previous studies, discourses that emphasize women’s bodies as food producers are verbalized by the promoters and affect women’s bodies. These discourses take multiple forms depending on where they are spoken and by whom, the political-religious background of the person, and the quality of their knowledge and experiences. In conclusion, the study presents the importance of focusing on the multiplicity and complexity of power acting on women’s bodies as a component of women’s decision-making in breastfeeding.