It's Mother's Day in the UK this Sunday and people up and down the country will be celebrating and honouring their mums.
Despite the national celebration, there’s plenty of evidence from the last 12 months that mothers aren’t yet being valued enough in the UK, at least where public policy is concerned.
Campaign groups, such as Pregnant then Screwed, have rallied as emerging data suggests women with children are being pushed out of the workforce during COVID-19 at a far greater rate than men.
Meanwhile organisations such as the Women’s Budget Group have pointed out that nurseries are closing due to the economic fall-out of COVID-19, but the government has not earmarked support for the childcare sector, or even mentioned it in the last Budget. That means, a lack of childcare will likely be a problem after the pandemic too and women with children will continue to lose job opportunities.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, pregnant women have had to attend health appointments and give birth alone with their partners waiting outside — something that midwife Lesley Gilchrist campaigned against last September as distressing and unnecessary, especially when restrictions were lifted elsewhere in society.
But one of the biggest scandals facing pregnant women and new mothers in the UK is the race gap in maternal health care and the shocking racial disparities in health outcomes during pregnancy and childbirth.
Recent research has found that Black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth compared to white women in the UK.
In February, a human rights organisation called Birthrights launched an inquiry into whether racism in the NHS was contributing to health problems during pregnancy and childbirth experienced by ethnic minority women going undiagnosed for too long.
It’s an issue that’s finally getting some attention in the media and politics — but it was Black women campaigning, writing, and speaking about the problem that helped get it there.
Here are some of the influential campaigners fighting for the rights to better health care for Black and Asian women in Britain we think you should know about.
Founder of Make Motherhood Diverse
Candice Brathwaite is an activist, blogger, and author of the best-selling book on Black British motherhood I Am Not Your Baby Mother, as well as Sista Sister, an essay collection about her experience growing up in London.
She is also the founder of the Make Motherhood Diverse, an online initiative which aims to improve the representation of parenthood online.
The platform carves out space for stories from disabled mothers and families whose children have disabilities, from LGBTQ+ families, and about Black and ethnic minority motherhood in the UK.
Brathwaite started blogging and posting to her popular Instagram account in 2016 about her own traumatising experience of giving birth, which saw her being admitted to hospital with septic shock following days of her health complaints being brushed off. In her own words she found herself at the “forefront of a discussion that will hopefully save women’s lives.”
Tinuke Awe and Clotilde Rebecca Abe
Founders of Five X More
Tinuke Awe nearly died after being diagnosed with preeclampsia — a serious illness that affects people in pregnancy usually picked up at health care appointments — late into her pregnancy. She was 38 weeks pregnant, and she had to have labour induced.
Then she faced an issue when nurses didn’t believe she was in labour for hours after she said she was, until she was on the verge of giving birth, Awe told the Guardian. That experience, followed by finding out that, at the time, Black women were five times more likely to die in childbirth, led her to set up Five X More with friend Clotild Rebecca Abe. The campaign group works with the health sector on the issue, fundraises, and collects stories on social media.
In July 2020, the campaign launched a petition calling on the government to improve maternal mortality rates for Black women in the UK — which garnered 187,000 responses and was sent to parliament. The government responded by saying it was funding a study on the “factors associated with the higher risk of maternal death for Black and South Asian women.”
Five X More also runs an informative Instagram account with the latest updates and reports on the issue from health care, academia, and government.
Founder of the Motherhood Group
Sandra Igwe founded the social enterprise the Motherhood Group, which offers counselling and doulas, provides workshops, and hosts events for Black mothers in the UK.
It was her own difficult experience of pregnancy and childbirth that inspired her to set it up, after having to make a formal complaint about a racist comment made during a health visit.
As well as running the Motherhood Group, Igwe is a political advocate for change in the maternal health care space. She is a trustee of the human rights organisation, Birthrights, and is co-chairing its inquiry into racism in the NHS, which is being led by barrister Shaheen Rahman QC.
Igwe said of the reason why the inquiry is needed: “Racism in maternity care in the UK is insidious and because it is covert and subtle it’s hard to describe how you are feeling. The strong Black woman stereotype is killing us. We should be allowed to be vulnerable and scream in pain.”
“Black mothers do not trust the health care system,” she added, which means, she fears, issues like postnatal depression are going undiagnosed as women are not seeking support.
Dr. Ria Clarke
Dr. Ria Clarke is an NHS doctor, specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology, and runs a popular Instagram account as @thedoctormummy, which she uses to raise awareness about maternal health and post about life as a doctor and mum.
Clarke has spoken at conferences on the topic of unequal health outcomes for black and minority ethnic women and is on the Birthrights’ inquiry committee.
Clarke told the BBC: "We know there are medical reasons. We [also] know if you have an unsuitable working and living situation, if you live in poor housing, which impacts on health and outcomes, you can see how that might impact on mortality."
She added: "We need to talk about the fact Black women may not feel that they will be taken seriously, which might make them less likely to disclose how they are feeling.”