February is Black History Month and Women’s History Month is coming up in March—but every day of every month, we must ensure that Black pregnant and postpartum workers and caregivers have the support they need to care for themselves and their loved ones’ health, without risking their economic security.
As we enter a new year amidst this pandemic, we must continue to uplift the experiences of Black workers and organizational leaders, whose voices have been critical in advancing the labor and women’s rights movements, and not forget the health disparities Black people, particularly Black women and infants, continue to face, due to centuries of systemic racism. According to the March of Dimes 2021 report card, the average infant mortality rate in the United States is 5.6 per 1,000 births (with leading causes of infant death including prematurity, low birth weight, and maternal complications), but non-hispanic Black women continue to face the highest rate of infant mortality at 10.9 per 1,000 births. Furthermore, Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.
“Policymakers and community leaders need to take a multifaceted approach that acknowledges the role of systemic racism, sexism, and social determinants of health, including in the workplace.”
At the same time that Black women continue to face these health disparities, they are still most likely to be the breadwinner in their families and are overrepresented in low wage jobs with few job protections, which can lead to devastating effects on their well being. We continue to hear from callers on our free legal helpline, especially Black workers, who lack access to workplace protections including reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and lactation, paid sick time, paid family & medical leave, and fair and flexible scheduling, when they need them. In order to address these adverse health & economic trends, policymakers and community leaders need to take a multifaceted approach that acknowledges the role of systemic racism, sexism, and social determinants of health, including in the workplace.
We are proud to work with our partners, many of which are Black women-led, across the country to advance justice for working families. For example, earlier this month, A Better Balance, working in solidarity with the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, drafted an opposition letter to Mississippi’s harmful equal pay bill, which fails to provide critical protections from Mississippi’s parents and caregivers, particularly women of color, as they re-enter the workforce or continue to support their families.
We’re also pushing the U.S. Senate to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), a bill which would grant pregnant and postpartum workers the right to reasonable accommodations when needed to stay healthy & working, as is especially critical for Black women, who disproportionately work in low wage and physically demanding jobs where they are more likely to face risks to the health of their pregnancy.
Just last month, A Better Balance and Black Mamas Matter Alliance sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Schumer sharing the heartbreaking experiences of Black birth workers and organizational leaders from 9 states—including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, California, and New York—who support pregnant and postpartum workers as they navigate pregnancy accommodations in the workplace.Together, we urged the U.S. Senate to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to advance positive health outcomes for Black pregnant and postpartum workers.
In our fight to advance racial, social, reproductive, and economic justice, we are also committed to strengthening partnerships with Black-led organizations and Historically Black Colleges and Universities to educate workers on their rights and empower advocates to share their experiences and promote policy change. As part of a long-term partnership with Meharry Medical College, the first Black medical school in the South founded in 1876, we recently conducted a Know Your Rights training for expectant mothers in Nashville, Tennessee. Last month, we partnered with Xavier University’s School of Public Health’s Student Organization, Tulane University, the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies, and the National Birth Equity Collaborative for a panel discussion, in which we educated Louisiana college students about maternal and child health issues that affect communities of color, the legislative process, and ways to support BIPOC maternal and infant health in the community.
We are honored to work alongside many incredible partner groups across the country to advance racial & gender equity, but we know that this work is far from over, and it matters every day of the year. We are committed to continuing our fight until all Black women & families across our country, especially in the South, have the support and protections they need to thrive.