Protecting human rights in childbirth

Registered Charity Number 1151152

Racial injustice in maternity care

A human rights inquiry

Call for evidence: share your experiences. Birthrights is convening a national inquiry into racial injustice in maternity care, throughout 2021.

Evidence repeatedly shows that Black, Asian and mixed ethnicity women and birthing people are more likely to die, experience baby loss, become seriously unwell and have worse experiences of care during pregnancy and childbirth, compared to those who are white.

This is urgent. Basic human rights are at stake.

The inquiry brings the power of the human rights legal framework together with lived experience and maternity care expertise, to investigate how systemic racism is impacting on maternity care, the harms being caused, and what needs to change.

Read the terms of reference.

The expert panel

Shaheen Rahman QC – Chair

Shaheen was called to the bar in 1996 and appointed as a QC in 2017. She is an expert in healthcare law and human rights. Shaheen has represented both patients and healthcare providers at inquests and public inquiries and in clinical negligence matters, including cases concerning brain injury, obstetric tears and psychiatric damage. Her human rights work encompasses judicial review challenges to healthcare provision and cases of discrimination in the provision of healthcare services under the Equality Act and Human Rights Act. Shaheen is a member of the Editorial Team for the Quarterly Medical Law Review and has published articles in the legal journal Judicial Review. She wrote a chapter on Health and Safety Law for the UK Supreme Court Yearbook Volume 9 and contributes to the podcast Law Pod UK and to the UK Human Rights Blog.

Sandra Igwe – co-chair (lived experience)

Sandra is the Founder of The Motherhood Group, a platform to support the black motherhood experience, through events and workshops, peer-to-peer digital support, through advocacy and campaigning. Sandra pioneered through The Motherhood Group UK’s first awareness week highlighting black women’s maternal mental health – Black Maternal Mental Health Week UK. Sandra is also an inclusion consultant who is passionate about ensuring black maternal experiences are validated, listened to and understood. She is also a digital content creator and bestselling children’s author that explores the feelings of young children.

Benash Nazmeen – Co-Chair (maternity care)

Benash is a Specialist Cultural Liaison Midwife, working towards addressing health inequalities within maternity services. A Trustee of Iolanthe Midwifery Trust, a Midwifery Ambassador and Chair for the Shared Decision-Making Council Maternity Stream for NHS England, Benash is actively invested in improving maternity services for those we care for and those who work in them. She has co-designed and runs Cultural Competency and Safety Workshops for maternity care professionals, while working closely with diverse communities. As Chair and director of Sheffield Maternity Cooperative, she is working to provide alternative spaces for advocacy, support and safe spaces for black and brown communities. She co-founded The Association of South Asian Midwives (ASAM), which aims to increase awareness of South Asian communities and their concerns with maternity health care professionals, to support the South Asian workforce, and to tackle taboo subjects like loss, mental health and infertility.

Caroline Bazambanza

Caroline is currently in the first year of a PhD program at the London School of Economics. Her research intends to explore black women’s experiences of pregnancy at the intersection of welfare, race and embodiment in London. She has previously worked with NGOs specialising in gender justice, the rights of the child and penal justice reform. Caroline has extensive experience of in-depth qualitative fieldwork, building trust and working with diverse communities in the UK and overseas. In 2019, she was awarded the Jean La Fontaine Award for Outstanding Overall Degree by LSE’s Department of Anthropology.

Tracey Bignall

Tracey is Senior Policy and Practice Officer with over 20 years of experience in policy, research, and practice development with voluntary and statutory organisations on a range of health and social care issues. Projects of late include: Review of Mental Health Act; Women’s Mental Health Task Force, exploring perinatal mental health for black and minority ethnic women; Care Quality Commission Declare Your Care campaign targeted at minority ethnic communities, and researching child sexual abuse and black and minority ethnic communities. Most recently, Tracey led the implementation of a community-based pilot project to raise awareness of high blood pressure amongst black African and Caribbean men, and a dementia programme to provide support to black and minority ethnic people living with dementia and their carers. Tracey is a member of the Maternity Transformation Stakeholder Council; HM Courts and Tribunal Service Equalities and Inclusion Engagement Group; and Association of Young People’s Health Inequalities Steering Group.

Benjamin Black

Benjamin Black is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist working in London. He is a sexual and reproductive health advisor for responding to populations living in resource-poor and humanitarian-emergency settings, and a specialist advisor to Médecins Sans Frontières. A mix of Iranian, European and British roots, Benjamin grew up in Manchester. His career has taken him around the world to work with academic, international and local organisations in some of the world’s most challenging environments. He has provided assistance on the Thai-Burmese Border, East Timor, Uganda, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Central African Republic and South Sudan. He also worked in the response to the West African Ebola epidemic. He has written about stigmatisation of child-bearing people in the DR Congolese Ebola epidemic and the lessons from previous epidemics for maternity services responding to Covid-19. Benjamin has advocated for respectful maternity care and stronger community engagement during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Dr Ria Clarke

Dr Ria Clarke is an obstetrics and gynaecology registrar in the South of England. Throughout her training she has dedicated herself to learning how to amplify the voices of the individuals and families she cares for. Her work involves training within the hospital environment to care for people with reproductive organs at formative periods in their lives. Outside of the hospital environment, this passion has led to Dr Clarke presenting at international conferences about the impact of severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, and working with her alma mater to support non traditional medical students become doctors. Her most recent advocacy has focused on the racial disparities in maternal mortality between Black, white and Asian women. Balancing the demands of raising a family with such an emotionally charged job has equipped Dr Clarke with vital juggling skills, whilst also making her appreciate how important work life balance is.

Elsie Gayle

Elsie is a midwife in private practice, with significant national and international experience. Along with the Mimosa Midwives Group Practice, she facilitates and manages the delivery of ‘culturally safe’ maternity care. She is dedicated to ameliorate the historical inequalities in service provision, the root causes of obstetric violence; the poor outcomes for disadvantaged mothers and babies, and in particular those of African descent. Elsie initiated ‘Midwifery Conversations’ a Community of Practice which supports a wide network of clinicians, students and other birth workers. In 2017 she received Honorary Fellowship of the University of Wolverhampton in recognition of her contribution to women’s rights in childbirth. On receiving the prestigious ‘Jean Davies’ Iolanthe Award 2019, Elsie went on to lead a small team in hosting the first international ‘Reproductive Sankofa Conference’, which initiated the in-depth work of repairing the poor maternity care issues for women of African descent.

Jenine Gill

Jenine is a human rights and equalities lawyer. Having started legal practice in Malaysia, she currently works as a solicitor at the Equality and Human Rights Commission where she had a lead role in the recent investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party. As a new mother during the pandemic, and from a mixed-race Asian and British background, Jenine also brings her own lived experience to the inquiry. She joins the inquiry in her personal capacity.

Meera Khanna

Meera’s experience includes more than 20 years of building brands and businesses across public and private sector, blue chip, SME and start-up companies, both agency and client side, working with brands including the BBC, Unilever, L’Oreal and the NHS. She has also been actively involved in shaping healthcare policy as part of the policy committee at WEP UK. Her motivation to set up The Nest Club was born from her own experience and the very common story of exhaustion, anxiety and despair, often suggested to be just ‘side effects’ of parenthood. She decided that there must be a better way to prepare parents for the reality of having a baby and importantly support them when baby comes along and it became her mission to join the dots between pregnancy and parenthood, shaking up the world of antenatal education and positively transforming the approach to postnatal care in the UK.

Olive Lewin

Olive is an experienced healthcare lawyer who has specialised in the field for more than 25 years, having previously trained as a nurse. She is a partner at leading human rights and clinical negligence law firm, Leigh Day. Olive has significant and extensive experience of assisting those with complex and high-value clinical negligence claims, including birth injuries ranging from cerebral palsy to serious perineal tears. She recently secured a settlement for the family of a young mother who died as a result of missed sepsis within 24 hours of delivering her baby. 

Mars Lord

Mars is a coach and birth activist. A triple award winning doula, mentor, educator and coach with over 15 years’ experience, Mars is in high demand, both in the UK and across the world, as a speaker and trainer. Mars created Abuela Doulas a doula preparation course primarily, but not exclusively, for Black and Brown women, and is the Founder of BLA (Black Lives Abuela) Scholarship. This scholarship is to help Black women who wish to become doulas to train and not be held back by socio-economic disadvantage. She is Inclusion Consultant to several large companies causing them to look deep into their practise to make systemic and structural change.

Lorraine Pryce

Lorraine Pryce is a doula and photographer supporting families across West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester. After training with Nurturing Birth in 2019, Lorraine has cared for a diverse number of clients with compassion and a tenacity to improve the birthing experience for all. “I believe every birthing person deserves to have a positive experience on their journey to becoming a parent, no matter who they are and how they choose to birth and nurture their babies.” Lorraine offers birth and postnatal support doula support whilst also capturing sacred moments through her birth and postpartum photography services. 

Natasha Smith

Natasha is a women’s health advocate, doula, educator and holistic therapist. She regularly speaks about her lived experience of maternity care as a Black woman and is a National Service User Representative for Choice and Personalisation for NHS England’s Maternity Transformation Programme. Natasha delivers training for the NHS and other organisations on anti-racism, cultural safety and wellbeing. She is Executive Director of The Women’s Health and Maternal Well-being Initiative C.I.C, founder of Eden Script, and a Trustee at White Ribbon Alliance UK.

Sabrina Stewart

Sabrina is a qualified governance, risk and compliance professional working in financial services. She sits on a number of employee diversity, equality and inclusion networks, including the Executive Committee of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network. Sabrina is a founding Service User Representative for Jersey’s Maternity Voices Partnership and a mother of 4 children. In her spare time, Sabrina is a community volunteer mentor. She also administers a Facebook group for over 6,000 Black and Mixed Race women; moderates a diverse Facebook group for parents raising race conscious children; has launched ‘Black Girls Can’ which aims to encourage Black women and girls to believe in themselves; and contributes to online forums for birthing people to support self-advocacy and breastfeeding.

Georgie Watson

Georgie is a recent maternity service user, local breastfeeding peer support volunteer and birth supporter. She was selected to establish Kernow Maternity Voices Partnership in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and develop a strong, diverse committee of women and families to support culture change within local maternity services. Georgie has in-depth experience of working with and advocating for vulnerable and marginalised families in rural communities. Her work as Chair of Kernow MVP to involve the local Roma, Gypsy & Traveller community and Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust was recognised as an outstanding example of practice by the CQC in 2020 and Highly Commended for the Maternity Voices Award at the 2019 International Maternity Expo Awards.

The inquiry in the press

Our vital race inquiry is featured in Channel 4’s The Fourcast podcast for their #BlackToFront day. We are grateful to expert panel member Sandra Igwe for giving her insight to this important episode.