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Protecting human rights in childbirth

New inquiry to drive action on racial injustice in maternity care

We are convening a national inquiry into racial injustice in maternity care, throughout 2021, with support from law firm Leigh Day. The inquiry will be led by an expert panel made up of Black and Brown people with lived experience, midwives and obstetricians, healthcare and human rights lawyers, and other experts across academia, anti-racism, health policy and participation. The panel meets for the first time on Tuesday 9 February to determine the scope, lines of inquiry and methodology for the call for evidence.

Barrister Shaheen Rahman QC, Chair of the Inquiry, said:

“I am honoured to have been asked by Birthrights to chair this much needed inquiry. Statistics show that Black, Asian and mixed ethnicity women are more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women. There are also concerns around higher rates of maternal illness, worse experiences of maternity care and the fact that Black and Asian pregnant women are far more likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19.  

“We want to understand the stories behind the statistics, to examine how people can be discriminated against due to their race and to identify ways that this inequity can be redressed.”

The inquiry will bring the power of the human rights legal framework together with lived experience and maternity care, represented by two Co-Chairs. Birthrights will launch a broad call for evidence and conduct in-depth participation work to investigate how racial bias and systemic racism impact on maternity outcomes and experiences. The expert panel will consider these findings, take oral evidence at hearings in summer 2021, and work together to identify solutions and concrete actions.

Sandra Igwe, founder of The Motherhood Group, a social enterprise that supports Black Mothers, and inquiry co-chair, said:

“I was left traumatised after being constantly dismissed during pregnancy and birth – when I raised concerns I wasn’t listened to, when I asked for pain relief I was ignored. These experiences are all too common when I speak to other Black women. We need to be heard and we need to see action – so I’m delighted to help put Black people’s voices at the heart of this inquiry.”

Benash Nazmeen, Director of the Association of South Asian Midwives and inquiry co-chair, said:

“As a midwife and an aunt to 13, I have witnessed, heard and felt the discrimination faced by South Asian communities. The repeated questions based on racial stereotypes, unsafe antenatal conversations due to cultural and communication barriers, and the appalling statistic that Pakistani women are more likely to have a premature baby or neonatal death in the UK as opposed to their country of origin – there are too many concerns that need to be unpicked and addressed.”

Amy Gibbs, Chief Executive of Birthrights, said:

“UK law demands everyone has equal access to safe, respectful maternity care, but we are failing to safeguard Black and Brown people’s basic rights – to survive childbirth, to be treated with dignity, to have their bodies and choices respected. Birthrights is thrilled to have such a formidable group of lived experience, legal, maternity and racism experts to lead this new inquiry.

Olive Lewin, Partner at Leigh Day and member of the expert panel, said:

“Having represented clients for over 25 years, who have suffered an injury following child birth, it is clear to me that there is an urgent need for this inquiry. We are extremely proud to support this essential work.”

Birthrights is grateful to Leigh Day and funders John Ellerman Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust for making this inquiry possible.

5 thoughts on “New inquiry to drive action on racial injustice in maternity care”

  1. None of this surprises me at all. I worked as an RGN for 38 years, mostly as a palliative care nurse in the private sector. However when I was pregnant and gave birth 36 years ago, and I know things have radically changed since then, the blatant racism I witnessed towards Asian women on the post natal ward shocked the life out of me. In fact the way all women including myself were treated shocked me. It was like stepping into an alien world where there was no respect for women at all. This work being done by birthrights is long overdue. However as with many things in maternity, in my opinion, you will be investigating or trying to remedy institutional racism, or attitudes, which has been embedded for decades. Its the shut up and put up policy, which women have had to endure for as long as women went into hospital to give birth.

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  2. I am a Midwife of African origin and I have always been struck about how little midwifery management care for its female staff and even less so for those of colour. As someone who worked to advocate on behalf of and with my client’s, in 2021, I worked with a large Trust which did its very best to shut me up. For self preservation, I have left the Trust.

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  3. I’m so glad this subject is being looked at. My sister career black woman working from home 36wks pregnant first baby at 41 not taken her maternity leave working from home 8.30 to 5.30 pm in a male dominated industry (HR put in place maternity leave as most men didn’t take it) Found herself been hounded from various teams when she explained certain times unable to take unrecognised calls was referred to child protection social service concerned for the welfare and of her unborn child. She was going to her appointment’s but stated she was overwhelmed scared as still birth rate was stated as high for over 35 years and found herself worried and couldn’t sleep so they offered her sleeping tablets. Next midwife appointment the midwife stated that social worker wanted to attend but midwife refused and told her to contact the social worker. A hand written letter on the back of a ‘Things to do list’ in red pen stating the following week a child protection meeting will be held whether she was there or not will be held on the same date as her birthing plan with other authorities. No contact has been made at this point with the social worker. When she finally made contact due to the shock and distress of the letter. Social worker went full on. Is she in a casual relationship is the father the father or is just sex? as she mention an argument which was he couldn’t come on one of the appointments due to his uncle passing and she felt she couldn’t talk to him due to the death of his uncle causing communication issues and when she turned up on that day they put in notes verbal abuse Only when I went through notes then incident explained . she saw everyone with there partners and burst into tears. Back to the the social worker. The call was made and went straight in text book Questions, how do recognise an argument? her mental state stated it was normal to not have a cot yet Sister stated its been ordered online her response was she want to see the date it was ordered. The social worker checked her housing arears of £60 making her financially irresponsible. Every question she asked my sister mid way interrupted typed next question. She said her emotions showed she could have mental health issues that she might not beware of. This was a 45 minutes call 3 days later formal pack child protection pack stating that she was to be available for a zoom meeting 1 hour before her birthing plan. What they don’t know is this we have a child protection Manager in our family also we showed the letter who in shock refused to believe that this was a social worker and insisted she must have said something that warrant the safe guarding of an unborn child ( she don’t drink or smoke and is very organised she felt they made her feel she shoud not have any fears or emotions or the fact her whole pregnancy has been fine until she requested a midwife change. This is a nightmare

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    • Hi, we’re really sorry to hear about your sister’s experience, that sounds really difficult. It sounds like you have expertise already on hand but if you want support with the interactions with social services then Family Rights Group can help: https://www.frg.org.uk/. We would be very happy to provide any help and support we can around your sister’s maternity care and how the maternity service has worked with the social workers. I know it’s a big ask at this stage of pregnancy but if she wants to contact us on advice@birthrights.org.uk we would be happy to offer any help that we can.

      Please do also ask her to consider sharing her experience with us as part of our inquiry, if she’s up to it: https://www.birthrights.org.uk/inquiry-into-racial-injustice-in-uk-maternity-services/

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  4. I am really pleased with the news. As a black woman my labor experience in the UK was very traumatic. My labour was induced and after a 16hours of suffering they opted for a C section. After the labor I tested positive for covid and they isolate me and the baby. I felt abandoned at the hospital. The medical procedure was dehumanizing and after two months I’m still trying to recover from all I’ve been through.

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