April 11th-17th is Black Maternal Health Week, a time spearheaded by our partners at Black Mamas Matter Alliance to raise awareness, build community, and amplify the experiences of Black mothers and birthing people in the U.S. We take this time at A Better Balance to advocate for the elimination of the Black Maternal mortality crisis by addressing the racial and gender disparities within the workplace and healthcare system, and highlighting structural solutions to these inequities.
This year marks the sixth anniversary of Black Maternal Health Week, and the theme for 2023 is “Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy!” We continue to support our reproductive justice partners in the movement to ensure all women and girls have the complete economic, social, and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about their bodies, families, and communities in all areas of their lives. One key part of reinforcing Black mothers’ autonomy and joy is ensuring they have the legal workplace protections they need to maintain healthy pregnancies and thrive during the postpartum period, including access to reasonable pregnancy and lactation accommodations and quality and comprehensive health care that is culturally responsive, without compromising their economic security. This year, there is reason to celebrate recent strides towards racial and gender equity: 2022 saw the passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, two critical pieces of federal legislation that will extend the right to reasonable workplace accommodations to pregnant, postpartum, and lactating workers nationwide.
We are immensely proud to have played a leading role in pushing for the passage of these two new laws. Throughout this decade-long fight, it has remained clear that these protections will be especially vital to Black women working in low-wage, physically demanding jobs, many of whom previously lacked an affirmative right to the accommodations they need to maintain healthy pregnancies and pump breastmilk on the job. As we found in our March 2022 report with Black Mamas Matter Alliance, “Centering the Experiences of Black Mamas in the Workplace: How The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Can Support Black Maternal Health,” supportive policies like these are crucial steps towards creating more equitable and supportive workplaces for Black birthing people.
We have also seen how the lived expertise and powerful voices of Black mothers who have experienced pregnancy discrimination firsthand were instrumental in showing the need for these policies and passing them into law. Earlier this year, ABB Community Advocate Natasha Jackson from South Carolina spoke at the White House and shared her story and experience with advocacy alongside former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Kamala Harris, and President Biden, who she introduced. In celebrating these recent wins, Natasha highlighted the difference these new laws will make for generations of women to come, saying, “I have two daughters and nieces. I am so grateful that they—and millions of workers across the country—won’t have to choose between starting a family or keeping their jobs.”
As part of our efforts to emphasize how strong, equitable enforcement of these new laws will play a role in advancing racial and gender equity, we were very excited to join the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and U.S. Department of Labor alongside our partners at Black Mamas Matter Alliance and the National Birth Equity Collaborative for “Black Mothers at Work: A Discussion on Workplace Challenges and Supports,” a virtual event kicking off the first day of Black Maternal Health Week. We were honored to take part in this important and timely discussion about the challenges faced by working Black mothers and ways to better support Black moms during pregnancy, after giving birth, and when returning to work.
During Black Maternal Health Week and always, we remain committed to supporting our Black women-led partners in the fight for racial and gender equity, and to centering the voices of Black mothers, who understand better than anybody else the kinds of structural support they, their families, and communities need in order to thrive.