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.

1 thought 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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