Published On: 10 July 2024

Last week, Tracey Bignall, Director of Policy & Engagement, spoke at Royal Holloway University to discuss racial injustice in maternity services. In 2022, Tracey was part of an expert panel leading Birthrights’ inquiry, “Systemic Racism, Not Broken Bodies,” into racism within maternity services.

The report highlighted that Black and South Asian women are more likely to experience pregnancy complications, with Black women being almost four times more likely to die, and Asian women being twice as likely compared to White women.

“Systemic Racism, Not Broken Bodies” brought together over 300 Black, Asian, and mixed-ethnicity women, along with obstetricians, midwives, experts by experience, academics, birth workers, and lawyers. This initiative allowed us to hear the stories behind the statistics, demonstrating that racism, not broken bodies, is at the root of many inequities in maternity outcomes and experiences.

The evidence gathered uncovered how systemic racism within maternity care—from individual interactions and workforce culture to curriculums and policies—can have a profound and devastating impact on basic rights in childbirth. The findings revealed that Black, Brown, and mixed-ethnicity women and birthing people often felt unsafe, were ignored and disbelieved, faced racism from caregivers, were not given proper choices or the means to give true informed consent, and experienced coercion, dehumanisation, and disproportionate structural barriers to care.

Key Actions:

  1. NHS Long Term Plan 2019 Continuity of Carer: Implement action to achieve 50% reductions in stillbirth, maternal mortality, neonatal mortality, and serious brain injury by 2025.
  2. Support for Black and Minority Ethnic Women: Provide increased support, including tailored communications.
  3. Improved Ethnicity Recording: Enhance ethnicity recording to identify those most at risk of poor outcomes.

Recommendations from the Report:

  • Commit to Being an Anti-Racist Organisation: Institutional commitment to anti-racism.
  • De-colonise Maternity Curriculums and Guidance: Revise educational materials to reflect diverse perspectives.
  • Empower Decision-Making: Ensure women from these backgrounds are decision-makers in their care and the wider maternity system.
  • Dismantle Structural Barriers: Implement national policy changes to address structural barriers to racial equity.

Our work on the London Anti-Racism Collaboration for Health aims to tackle these issues by producing a strategic anti-racist approach throughout London’s health and care system.

Read Systemic Racism, Not Broken Bodies here.

Read Systemic Racism, not Broken Bodies here