Protecting human rights in childbirth

Registered Charity Number 1151152

Inquiry into racial injustice in maternity care

Black mother holding her new baby

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, not Broken Bodies

In May 2022, Birthrights published Systemic Racism, not Broken Bodies (download below), the report on the year-long inquiry into racial injustice in the maternity services.

The inquiry was overseen by an expert panel of obstetricians, midwives, experts by experience, academics, birth workers and lawyers, and over 300 Black, Brown and mixed ethnicity women and birthing people gave evidence and contributed to this ground-breaking report. It allowed us to hear the stories behind the statistics and demonstrated that it is racism, not broken bodies, that 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 through to curriculums and policies – can have a deep and devastating impact on basic rights in childbirth. The subsequent findings showed that Black, Brown and mixed ethnicity women and birthing people often felt unsafe, were ignored and disbelieved, were subject to racism by caregivers, were not given a proper choice or the means to give true informed consent, and were subject to coercion from caregivers, were regularly dehumanised and were disproportionately affected by structural barriers to care. 

To address this and to attempt to close the persistent gap in maternal mortality and morbidity in this country, Birthrights is calling for urgent and immediate action from all parts of the maternity system, including the implementation of our Universal Recommendations including:

  • Commit to being anti-racist
  • Decolonise maternity curriculums and guidance
  • Make Black and Brown women the decision makers in their care and in the wider maternity system
  • Create safe, inclusive workforce cultures
  • Dismantle structural barriers to racial equity through national policy change

We would like to thank Amy Gibbs and Melissa Brown for all their dedication and hard work in producing this report. 

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.

Shaheen Rahman QC

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

Sandra Igwe BBC News
Divya Talwar BBC Radio Four
Participation Officer Melissa Brown LBC Radio

Download Systemic Racism, Not Broken Bodies

Download the full report

Race Inquiry download

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