Bold Breastfeeding Photos of Kyrgyzstan’s President’s Daughter Spark Debate on Weibo

The daughter of President Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan, Aliya Shagieva, recently sparked controversy for posting photos of breastfeeding her newborn son on Instagram. Aliya’s pictures are a bold statement in a country where the influence of religious ideology over how women should dress and act is considerable. On Sina Weibo, many netizens applaud Aliya for breaking taboos around breastfeeding – also a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Photos of the 20-year-old daughter of Kyrgyzstan President Almazbek Atambayev, Aliya Shagieva, breastfeeding her baby are being widely shared and discussed on Chinese social media this weekend.

Aliya Shagieva made headlines earlier this month after she posted multiple revealing photos on her Facebook and Instagram (@homesickbluess), sparking a storm of criticism in Kyrgyzstan, where an estimated 80 percent of the population is Muslim.

Aliya Shagieva is the youngest daughter of the leader of Kyrgyzstan. She got married last year and revealed her pregnancy in March, when she posted a picture of her baby bump.

After she gave birth to her son, Tagir, she posted multiple photos of her breastfeeding her baby.

The photos sparked controversy in Kyrgyzstan, with many saying it is wrong for a woman to show off her body and with people calling Aliya “shameless” and a “disgrace to her father.”

Aliya’s father, President Almazbek Atambayev, made international headlines last year when he attacked people who are critical of women who wear more revealing outfits. At a press conference, he stated that women are more prone to become radicalized if they put on Islamic dress, saying: “Women in mini-skirts don’t become suicide bombers.”

According to a report published by the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan, the influence of religious ideology in Kyrgyzstan “substantially contributes to discrimination against women.” Bermet Stakeeva, programme officer at the forum, previously told The Guardian: “Islam has a strong influence on women, how to dress and act and it’s now being discussed widely, in mosques and on television, that women should live moral lives.”

Aliya responded to the criticism online saying that it is not right to sexualize breasts this way and that “the most important purpose of female breasts is to breastfeed” and that it is “nothing to be ashamed of.” She emphasized that women’s breasts are not men’s pleasure objects.

Sina Hubei and other Chinese media accounts posted the photos and Aliya’s statements on Weibo on April 21, soon triggering thousands of reactions. The majority of netizens supported Aliya, saying that breastfeeding is nothing to be ashamed of and applauding her for her stance and braveness.

“Kyrgizstan is a country where the majority of people are Muslim (..),” one person commented: “It’s good that she’s the daughter of the President, otherwise she could’ve been killed for this,” one netizen wrote.

“I saw these photos on WeChat and I really admire Aliya’s bravery,” one girl wrote.

“Only human thoughts are dirty, not any part of the body,” a popular comment said.

Many Weibo users wrote comments such as: “She is completely right. Breasts are for feeding your baby, there’s nothing offensive about it.”

Breastfeeding is a recurring topic on Chinese social media. In 2015, an incident where a mother was shamed for breastfeeding on the Beijing subway caused huge controversy on Weibo, even attracting the attention of UNICEF and Beijing authorities.

One Weibo user at the time said the mother should “pay attention to her manners in public place” and that she should not “expose her sex organ.” Weibo netizens collectively responded to the issue; some agreeing that breastfeeding in public is inappropriate, while others defended the woman.

Although the majority of Weibo netizens show their support for Aliya Shagieva in normalizing breastfeeding, not all netizens were supportive: “It’s great that your motherly love is so big, but why do you need to show it off like this?”

Others agreed with this stance, saying: “We all know how mothers feed their babies, but you’re the daughter of the president, why do you want to show us? I don’t want to see it.”

“What is she doing not wearing any pants,” one female commenter said: “She’s shameless.”

As for the young mother Aliya Shagieva herself – it seems that she is no longer active on social media after her photos attracted the attention of national and international media. On April 23, her Instagram account @homesickbluess was no longer available.

– By Manya Koetse

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Author

About the author: Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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