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Protecting human rights in childbirth

Registered Charity Number 1151152

Inquiry into racial injustice in maternity care

If you have been affected by the issues raised by our inquiry and in our report Systemic Racism, Not Broken Bodies, please contact our advice line on advice@birthrights.org.uk.

Systemic racism in maternity care is an urgent human rights issue. For too long, evidence and narratives about why racial inequities in maternal outcomes persist have focussed on Black and Brown bodies being the problem – ‘defective’, ‘other’, a risk to be managed.

Birthrights’ year-long inquiry into racial injustice has heard testimony from women, birthing people, healthcare professionals and lawyers outlining how systemic racism within maternity care – from individual interactions and workforce culture through to curriculums and policies – can have a deep and devastating impact on basic rights in childbirth. This jeopardises Black and Brown women and birthing people’s safety, dignity, choice, autonomy, and equality.

The inquiry’s report, Systemic Racism, Not Broken Bodies, uncovers the stories behind the statistics and demonstrates that it is racism, not broken bodies, that is at the root of many inequities in maternity outcomes and experiences.

Download Systemic Racism, not Broken Bodies

Executive summary

Full report (Sign up below to download the full report)

Race Inquiry download
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About the inquiry

The inquiry was led by an expert panel made up of people with lived experience, midwives and obstetricians, healthcare and human rights lawyers, and other experts across academia, anti-racism, health policy and participation.

Read the terms of reference.

The expert panel

Shaheen Rahman QC
Chair

A senior barrister with particular expertise in Clinical Negligence, Inquests, Public Law and Human Rights

Sandra Igwe co-chair (lived experience)

Founder of The Motherhood Group and Black Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, and Birthrights Trustee

Benash Nazmeen Co-Chair (maternity care)

Assistant professor of midwifery with a specialist interest in equity, diversity and inclusion; Trustee of Iolanthe Midwife Trust; and founder of the Association of South Asian Midwives

Caroline
Bazambanza

PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics exploring the black maternal experience at the intersections of reproduction, race and welfare

Tracey
Bignall

Senior Policy and Practice Officer at the Race Equality Foundation and member of NHS England’s Maternity Transformation Stakeholder Council

Benjamin
Black

Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist in London and specialist adviser in maternal, sexual and reproductive health in humanitarian and complex emergencies

Dr Ria
Clarke

Practising obstetrician, with a public profile speaking out on motherhood, working in the NHS, intersectional feminism and anti-racism

Elsie
Gayle

Midwife in private practice with significant national and international experience, advocate of culturally safe care and on inequalities, especially faced by women of African descent

Jenine
Gill

Equalities and human rights lawyer with professional experience of inquiries and recent lived experience, taking part in a personal capacity

Meera
Khanna

Expert by experience who then founded the Nest Club to improve postnatal care

Olive
Lewin

Clinical negligence lawyer at Leigh Day who specialises in birth injury claims

Mars
Lord

Triple award-winning doula, mentor, educator and coach, Black birth activist, founder of Abuela Doulas, Vice-Chair of Iolanthe Midwife Trust and Birthrights Trustee

Lorraine
Pryce

Expert by experience and doula working with clients facing discrimination and disadvantage, e.g. people of colour, non-binary people, solo parents, people who have had a difficult fertility journey

Natasha
Smith

Expert by experience, doula and holistic therapist, Trustee at White Ribbon Alliance UK, Founder and Managing Director of the Women’s Health and Maternal Well-being Initiative C.I.C

Sabrina
Stewart

Expert by experience who now advocates for others, Maternity Voices Partnership user rep in Jersey

Georgie
Watson

Birth supporter, founding Chair of Kernow Maternity Voices Partnership within Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, with experience of working with and advocating for vulnerable and marginalised families

Do you work with pregnant women and birthing people?

Our training equips doctors, midwives and other birth workers with knowledge of the law and human rights principles, an understanding of how to apply it in practice, and the ability to communicate effectively with women and birthing people in a way that upholds their human rights. We offer a 10% discount to multidisciplinary teams.

Need advice about your maternity care?

Knowing your rights and the law in pregnancy and childbirth is important. If you have are pregnant or recently given birth and need advice on any aspect of your care, please contact our advice team.

Our free factsheets provide you with the latest information on your rights, where they come from in law, and how they are backed up in guidance.