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International Women's Day 2020: We need to talk about race

On 6 March 2020, the RCOG marked International Women’s Day with an event focusing on the inequalities of health outcomes for BAME women in the UK.

Photo of attendees at the RCOG's International Women's Day 2020 event

As outlined in the 2019 report “MBRRACE-UK: Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK”, BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) women experience higher maternal mortality rates than white women in the UK. The RCOG Women’s Network initiated work on addressing these disparities by holding a workshop in late 2019 where they came up with some recommendations for the RCOG.

The event held on International Women’s Day this year was the first step in implementing these recommendations. Over 300 people attended with an additional 2000 people signed up to watch it live on Facebook.

During the event we heard from speakers with a variety of experience, both professional and personal.

Eddie Morris spoke about the Marmot Review 10 years on, in particular how recommendation 4 ‘to ensure a healthy standard of living for all’ has not yet been achieved. Eddie stated ‘successive governments did not prioritise the reducing health inequalities and the argument was lost in the grand debate about how we as a nation were to overcome this new economic reality’ after the Global Financial Crisis in 2008.  

Christine Ekechi told powerful stories about women’s experiences, being passed off as ‘too much’, ‘a complainer’ or about ‘being too difficult’ and losing trust with doctors because they are not listening to women. She stated ‘we as healthcare providers have a responsibility to foster cultural competency, cultural safety, cultural sensitivity and cultural humility.’

The first panel titled: “BAME Women are more likely to die during pregnancy: We know the statistics, what can be done about it” discussed the power of grassroots movements, the need to support BAME healthcare professionals to feel comfortable and safe so that they can speak up, and the power social media has had in getting the message out there about these stark inequalities.  

We saw a powerful piece by Utopia Theatre called “How Far Apart” which explored the layered and complex historical factors that are contributing to this crisis.

The second panel titled: “Do Ethnic disparities in women’s health outcomes exist in gynaecology too?” Panellists discussed how powerful and important patients’ perspectives are, the need to look at how research is funded and the lack of BAME women in senior research roles. They also discussed how race is socially constructed and how there are different levels and types of prejudice for different groups e.g. it was suggested that darker skin black women experience the worst healthcare. One of the key messages was that research is needed on individual patient experience.

Catherine Nestor, Co-Vice Chair of the RCOG Women’s Network, fedback on the day and stated that social media has helped to get the messages out and that the RCOG’s role is to be attuned to the vast intersectional needs of women who use the service.

Ranee Thakar, Senior Vice President for Global Health who had moderated the day finished by reiterating the College’s commitment to addressing BAME issues in a more cohesive, purposeful way. She explained that the RCOG would consider how to develop and deliver effective training resources to prevent issues such as unconscious bias in examiners as well as developing resources for trainees and consultants in this area. She also acknowledged the importance of better reflecting equality and diversity issues as a standard part of guidelines, and to use the College’s voice to call for more joined up work to reduce health inequalities. She reinforced how the College will need to work with other like-minded organisations and develop a cross organisation action plan to bring together the different strands that can make a difference across the various sectors.

The event was a resounding success thanks to the input by the reference group, speakers and attendees. Positive change can happen, this is just the beginning.


Find out more

For more information, visit the UN International Women's Day website:

For further reading on the topic, please see the reference list.


You can watch videos of the day on the Facebook event page: