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Advancing Respect and Dignity in Childbirth for Black Women Across the Globe

By IHI Team | Friday, March 4, 2022
Advancing Respect Dignity in Childbirth for Black Women Across the Globe

Photo by Dahcia Lyons-Bastien | nappy

In order to advocate for better care and outcomes in childbirth, it is essential to center the voices, expertise, and lived experiences of Black women and birthing people. Recognize that our lives are not defined solely by racism, gender oppression, and trauma but also by joy, resistance, existence, dreams, and love. Organizations and communities can and do create spaces of love and compassion for those who have stories of trauma and disrespect in maternal care. They uplift people to be leaders in this space and hire members of impacted communities to lead work with those communities.

Connecting Across Disciplines

While climate change impacts all populations and communities, Black women and birthing people are disproportionately exposed to environmental harm due to structural racism and gender oppression. Social and structural determinants of health, including residence in inner cities with higher exposure to air pollutants, long-term high levels of stress, racism, and sexism, contribute to adverse outcomes for Black birthing people. As climate change worsens, air pollutants, water pollutants, and temperatures will continue to rise, exacerbating the cycle of harm, especially for people with lower incomes globally.

Research shows that this exposure leads to negative birth outcomes. In addition, Black women and birthing people disproportionately still do not receive equal pay for equal work. They often have fewer resources to fall back on in times of long-term or acute crises, including drought, flooding, heatwaves, and hurricanes.

Lifting Community Voices

Maternal health workers, health care professionals, and community-based organizations can collaborate with climate change organizations to lead to an effective community-centered approach to combat the specific harms of climate change.

For its first five years, the National Birth Equity Collaborative (NBEC) focused on transforming the national maternity landscape in communities, public health, and health care systems in the United States. However, the shifts of 2020 — namely the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest following the murders of unarmed Black people by current and former members of law enforcement — have mobilized movements to connect and abolish the threads of global structural racism and gender oppression.

Across the world, we face shared systems of oppression — including white supremacy, anti-Blackness, patriarchy, and homophobia — so it only makes sense that we share knowledge and work together. Now, NBEC is leading a multi-year global learning process with Black women-led organizations transnationally. Through this global learning process, we aim to build power in the service of sexual and reproductive health, rights, and well-being for Black women, Black birthing people, and their communities and to support these strategies and actions through transnational solidarity.

Communities are essential to these efforts because they know best what they need and how to get there. We strive to center communities and the unique experiences of Black people globally.

Improving Maternal Health in the US and Globally

It is no secret that the US, despite its GDP, has problems with its health care infrastructure. Many of our global partners are not surprised to hear that the US has poor maternal health outcomes, with Black women fairing the worst. By working with our global partners, we aim to learn from one another and apply this knowledge to strengthen the US maternal health care system. We take inspiration from the constant innovation and unity that occurs globally to drive more equitable and just health care for Black women and birthing people during childbirth.

We seek accountability to dismantle longstanding systems of harm as we simultaneously envision a brand-new world. We mobilize to work towards a vision of a world wherein every human being has the freedom to experience full-spectrum sexual and reproductive well-being.

Sustaining Ourselves Through the Work

We all are living through a pandemic and surviving emerging urgent threats globally. Our organization, partners, and communities are all experiencing a toll on their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Additionally, in doing this work, we experienced pushback from institutions that have done global work for decades devoid of community engagement, shared decision making, inclusive hiring, or culturally representative leadership. To ensure that we are centering justice and joy in our work, we have started an internal initiative called Community Care to promote healing and sisterhood. We find creative ways to prioritize our well-being. Team members or external guests lead these sessions, including journaling, yoga, cooking, and dancing.

To others doing this work, we would say:

  • Lead with intention. We recognize the direct impacts of being marginalized in this world. When showing up to do this work, it is crucial to bring compassion. Enter spaces with the intention of understanding others and doing what is best for the communit
  • Recognize your position. As an organization based in the US, we understand that we have a Western and American privilege and approach when working in a global setting. We have learned, and continue to learn, the importance of recognizing this, especially as Black women in the US, and working to shift power to avoid perpetuating the harms caused by colonialism, imperialism, and racism in our work.
  • Be persistent, patient, and flexible. As Black women, we face racism, anti-Blackness, and patriarchy in our everyday lives, which impacts how we show up to work. This work is essential, but the process of undoing systems of oppression will not happen overnight. Plans and projects may shift as we enter this learning journey humbly. As an organization, we support one another’s wellness through weekly community care activities and prioritizing joy.

Joia Crear-Perry, MD, Founder and President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative; Ana Barreto, Director of Transnational Birth Equity; Jade Below, member of the Transnational Birth Equity team; and Tamia Ross, member of the Transnational Birth Equity team. We thank Zainab Jah and Lienna Feleke-Eshete of the National Birth Equity Collaborative for their contributions.

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