The government had a special gift for mothers this Mother’s Day — a joint ministerial decree to make it easier for female workers to breast-feed their babies, albeit indirectly.

The stated aim of the decree, issued Monday, is to encourage breast-feeding of infants until they are six months old, as highly recommended by the World Health Organization for the development of healthy children.

Under the decree, employers are encouraged to give breast-feeding employees time to pump their breast milk during work hours and the facilities to store it for their babies whom they have to leave at home.

The joint decree mandates the State Minister for Women’s Empowerment to disseminate information about breast-feeding among workers and employers and asks the Health Ministry to provide field workers to teach breast-feeding women how to pump their breast milk.

The decree was signed by Manpower and Transmigration Minister Erman Suparno, Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari and State Minister for Women’s Empowerment Meuthia Hatta during a Women’s Day event at the Jakarta Convention Center, led by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Soeharno, a spokesman for the manpower ministry, said the decree referred to Law No. 13/2003 on manpower, which requires employers to recognize the right of female workers to breast-feed their babies.

“The decree avoids placing too much of a burden on employers, but on the other hand promotes breast milk as the best yet cheapest food for babies in times of crisis,” Soeharno said.

A WHO survey found that breast milk is more effective than formula milk in boosting babies’ immune systems.

During the ceremony, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also conferred state awards on several institutions and local governments for their contribution to women’s empowerment.

The Parahita Ekapraya award was presented to those who had shown commitment to gender equality and gender-responsive policies.

For the first time this year, several ministries and state institutions won awards. The Public Works Ministry, the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry and the Attorney General’s Office won the inaugural award for demonstrating strong commitment to improving gender equality through their policies.

Also awarded were several provinces — Central Java, Lampung, East Java, West Kalimantan, West Sumatra, Banten, Jambi and Riau Islands — and regents and municipalities — South Lampung, Temanggung, Brebes, Sragen, Tulung Agung, Magelang, Malang and Bandung.

In his speech, the President urged women to do their bit through their work to help the country tackle the effects of the global financial crisis.

“I call on women nationwide to participate in the joint efforts to deal with the crisis to save our economy. The government will always be in the vanguard in these efforts,” Yudhoyono said.

The President also expressed his appreciation and support for women for their concrete efforts in food diversification, energy saving and tree-planting movements in preparation for global food and environmental crises. JP