I was hugely honoured to be shortlisted for the Mama Awards “Maternity Innovator” of the year award. After an intense few years it was meaningful to have my work leading Birthrights recognised. And to be frank I needed a pick me up and a pep talk this week!
However, the nomination came hot on the heels of this weekend’s Pregnant The Screwed Live event at which I was lucky enough to join the Make Motherhood Diverse panel of experts and activists thinking about diversity, inclusion, rights and more in the birth world.
Now that I’ve been encouraged to look at the list of shortlisted candidates for the Mama Awards, and their selection panel I no longer feel comfortable taking part in something that feels exclusive rather than inclusive. I have emailed the Mama Conference team to let them know and a copy of my email is below.
I hope to try and be more aware of this in future (and check out the inclusion credentials myself rather than have it pointed out to me) and continue on my very imperfect journey to being an ally. I know this act and post is likely to cause controversy but it’s far from extraordinary and I hope it’s soon seen as normal for us to calmly be aware of our privilege and speak up when we can.
Dear Mama Conference team,
I was very honoured to be shortlisted for the Mama Conference's Maternity Innovators award. I am proud to have my work with Birthrights and as a writer and campaigner for respectful, equal, safe maternity care recognised in the company of so many women I admire.
However, it has since been pointed out to me (and I regret not having thought to check myself) that there are very few black and minority ethnic women shortlisted and a lack of diversity on your selection panel.
As the most recent MBBRACE report highlights, there are worryingly high perinatal mortality, morbidity and stillbirth rates for black and minority ethnic women. The many reasons for this disparity (some of which we understand and some of which we don't) certainly include under-representation of BAME groups and institutional racism.
At this weekend's Pregnant Then Screwed Live event, I was fortunate enough to join a panel on the 'Politics of Birth' curated by the brilliant Make Motherhood Diverse collective. A panel of activists and professionals discussed the underrepresentation of black and minority ethic women in service user groups and positions of power and influence, alongside the contribution this makes to services that are less inclusive and less safe for some. We also discussed disabled and LGBTQ parents under-representation and their need to be included in the co-production and co-design of the services they use.
As a white woman, with all the privilege that brings, I believe that it is my role to lift up those individuals whose activism comes at a greater cost than mine, whose work is often rendered invisible and for whom the consequences of not being listened to can be life changing. And if it's disappointing for me not to be able to be part of an award's ceremony it's nothing compared to the frustration and disappointment of those whose work goes unrecognised time and time again.
I have made a promise to continue and build on the work I have tried to do to shine the spotlight on and make space for women whose voices are not heard. The work I have been proudest at during my time at Birthrights has been developing a core strand of our work to focus on, listen to and understand those whose rights are at greatest risk, whose outcomes are the poorest and whose perspective so rarely reaches the media and policy makers.
I am still learning how I can make a more personal difference to inclusivity in the birth world. I do not have all the answers and I still do things that aren't helpful. But as part of this promise I have resolved not to be involved with initiatives show a lack of inclusion. The lack of BAME women on your shortlist suggests that you aren't attracting or shortlisting those who I know are making a huge difference and having to work hardest. I therefore have to withdraw my name from the shortlist for this year's award.
If you are able to meaningfully address this lack of diversity ahead of this year's awards I would of course be delighted to take part. As you may know there are some great resources out there for those of us in the birth world to learn more about cultural competency and to ensure that inclusion is at the heart of all we do, not an afterthought. If it would be helpful I would be happy to point you to some resources I have found useful on my continuing journey to be an ally to those who suffer discrimination.
Finally, I wanted to let you know that I will be putting a copy of this email on my website and letting my social media followers know that I have withdrawn from the awards. I hope this will encourage others to be aware of inclusion in the work they do and ensure we all hold each other accountable for the progress we make towards equality. I will of course be happy to publish any response you would like to send.
With all best wishes,