This story is part of Black Ballad’s takeover of HuffPost UK, a week-long series by Black women on parenting, family, and our post-Covid future.
For decades, Black women have been at higher risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth in the UK compared to white women – and over the years we have seen that number steadily rising. As recently as the 2018 and 2019 MBRRACE reports into maternal deaths and morbidity, we saw that Black women have a five-fold higher risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth, yet they only account for 4% of women who give birth in the UK.
This is a huge disparity and one that needs to be addressed immediately.
The #FiveXMore campaign was set up by myself and Clotilde Rebecca Abe, not only to raise awareness of these shocking disparities in maternal outcomes – but also as a way to support and empower Black pregnant women with our five recommended steps so they can access the care they need and deserve.
Those steps are: speaking up, seeking a second opinion, doing your research, finding an advocate, trusting your gut feeling, and supporting our campaign.
Professionally, we are both founders of parenting-focused ventures – I run the parenting meet-up network @mumsandtea, while Clotilde set up @_prosperitys, a non-profit organisation for maternal wellbeing, supporting Black and South Asian women during the perinatal period – that is, before and after childbirth.
Ultimately though, we are two Black mothers who have had to take matters into our own hands after feeling that nothing had been done about the issue for years – and seeing, in fact, that the numbers are getting worse.
Since launching the campaign in 2019 with the #fivexmore selfie, we have been bringing this matter to the forefront of people’s attention, while continuing to support the women impacted. Some of our work is practical – we recently launched a partnership with the Positive Birth Company to give 100 black women every month free access to their hypnobirthing course.
We have also been lobbying, hard. In March 2020, we launched a petition to the government asking them to improve maternal mortality rates and health care for Black women in the UK, which gained a lot of traction in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement with 186,000 signatures at time of writing.
The government response to our petition, which came on June 25, committed to funding research into factors associated with the higher risks for Black and south Asian women – which is welcome.
However the rest of the response left us feeling perplexed. They continued on to tell us about the NHS long-term plan – how it’s committed to the implementation of an enhanced and targeted ‘continuity of carer’ model for BAME women, and of their hope that by 2024, 75% of BAME women will receive this model throughout pregnancy, labour and the postnatal period.
This response is disconcerting for Black woman for two reasons.
The first is their use of the word BAME, which lumps all women who are not white under the same category. Asian women are twice as likely to die during childbirth and mixed race women three times more likely, but Black women are the ones at the highest risk.
Our petition explicitly asked for improvements in health care outcomes for Black women and we can clearly see the government not answering that specific ask, tailoring their response to one that that suits them instead.
Also, this issue is affecting women right now, as I write. By telling us of your plans for 2024, what happens in the meantime to Black women (and all other women) who are at a higher risk of dying?
This issue should not being tackled with a one-size-fits-all approach. Black women can no longer afford to be thrown under this generic term, that’s as damaging as it is unwelcome to people in the Black community.
Specific and immediate action is needed to address this disparity. The #FiveXMore campaign asks members of the public to continue showing their support by writing letters to their local MPs to urge the Department of Health to give a revised response that addresses the concerns of the original petition and to give a solution outside of the one suggested that will be in place for 2024.
Going forward, Black women should be addressed as Black women, not as BAME, especially when it comes to issues as serious as this. We can no longer afford to be labelled this way – it is damaging and literally costing us our lives.
Tinuke Awe is co-founder of the Five X More Campaign.
This article was commissioned for HuffPost UK by Black Ballad, the lifestyle platform that tells stories of human experience through the eyes of Black British women and elevates their voices. If you would like to read more, become a Black Ballad member to get unlimited access to content, events and discounts, and to connect to its community of like-minded women.