25 Aug

Black Lives Matter: how the Breastfeeding Network is working to tackle racial inequality

To coincide with Black Breastfeeding Week 2021, BfN CEO Shereen Fisher gives an update on our ongoing work to tackle racial inequality.

The Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 shone a spotlight on the world of racism within UK culture and institutions, leading to worldwide protests to end racial inequality. BLM combined with shocking information coming out on the deep inequalities that exist within our maternity systems for Black and Asian Women through the MBRRACE Report, have caused many charities involved in supporting parents to think about whether our services really are meeting the needs of all parents, babies and families.

This is true for BfN and this blog seeks to state our progress against our published statement that we shared in 2020 in response to BLM and in solidarity against racism.

Here is that statement again:


Black breastfeeding matters

We stand alongside all Black mothers and families, and are willing to do anything we can to ensure mothers and babies get real change for the better.

At the heart of BfN’s values is empowerment of women, and none of us can feel empowered if we are raising our children with threat from racism.

As a charity we have always believed in social justice for mothers and babies, but often we have felt limited in what to do, in part due to our own ignorance – which is our responsibility to correct.

We hear our fellow Black mothers and families and we are committed to doing more – using our core values of empowerment, empathy and actively listening.

We are committed to learning and educating ourselves.

We will share and amplify Black women’s voices.

We are here for you.


Since we made that statement, what have we done?

Nearly a year on from publishing the statement we have already published an update on our progress against an agreed action plan (the previous update can be accessed here). So, this update you are reading is our second and we will continue to keep you apprised of our progress.

For the second year we will provide monetary support to the organisers of Black Breastfeeding Week, we will encourage peer supporters to access training organised during this week and at other times that challenges thinking and supports their skills to support all families. We will continue to promote and raise awareness of the FIVEXMORE campaign in our communications and work.

Following a listening exercise with our own peer supporters we have heard first-hand about the experience of being a peer supporter in BfN and the additional challenges for peers from Black and Asian backgrounds to feel that their experience is represented. While generally being part of the BfN family is overwhelmingly positive we can see deficiencies in some of our group dynamics and limitations in our knowledge and skills reflected in our training.

So, this has led us to review our training materials with some help from an external organisation. We were pleased to see that only a small number of changes were needed so far but we acknowledge that the adjustments to our training content and inclusion of examples will have made a big impact for peer supporters who may have not seen themselves reflected in the experience and knowledge we were conveying. A commitment to ongoing review with the right representatives will help ensure our training and approach to support reflects diverse experience.

Our goal is to be a charity that is able and committed to supporting ALL families and for ALL families to feel comfortable and safe accessing our support, training, volunteering and working for us. This is at the heart of our work and we know that we can only truly achieve it by becoming a more representative and diverse charity.

Going forward, all BfN information will be developed and reviewed by a panel reflecting the skills and lived experience of parents. We hope to have the panel set up by the end of this year.

Guided by the insights from the volunteer working group, Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority peer supporters from BfN, and colleagues from BRAP, we have mapped the areas and actions that we want to work on. This has informed our plan to roll out training for key staff and peer supporters within our network, starting with our Tutor and Supervisor group. This programme of training is ongoing and includes training of BfN Directors this summer. The training for Directors seeks to help BfN’s trustees develop a greater understanding of what it means for BfN to be anti-discriminatory in its practice and discuss the role of leaders in developing and leading an organisation that is committed to culture change.

While progress had been made to engage younger mothers with lived experience of breastfeeding on the Board as Directors, there has been a clear lack of diverse ethnic representation on our Board of Directors for some time. In November 2020 we were pleased to welcome two new board members – Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi and Joy Hastings – and there is an ongoing commitment to ensure strong representation on the Board to support effective decision-making. Since then we have undertaken another round of recruitment and we are pleased to welcome a further 3 new Directors to the BfN Board soon, reflecting the skills and lived experience that BfN needs to govern.

In respect of our workforce and volunteers we know that BfN attracts a diverse range of candidates for jobs but we need to do more work to see if the people who get offered jobs are also representative and diverse. In July 2021 we launched our first employee survey which will provide an important benchmark to help inform planning and recruitment going forward.

We are committed to diversity and inclusion being on all agendas – wherever we meet we will actively discuss and invite feedback and learning on diversity and inclusion. This includes our Board, manager meetings and meetings of our project leads, tutors and supervisors.

Our communications team do and will continue to ensure that our values around diversity and inclusivity are publicly demonstrated.  This covers our newsletters, all social media channels, blogs, campaigns and printed materials.

Externally, we see the potential for the positive impact to come through our openness to partners and willingness to work with others. In late 2020 we joined a collaboration made up of several other organisations including Oxford Breastfeeding Support Group, ABM, GPIFN and others to build an open resource of images depicting different clinical issues of the lactating breast represented on different skin tones. The issues of a lack of diverse images have been highlighted by Nekisha Killings ( Nekisha Killings on Breast Assessment and Non-White Skin Tones | GOLD Learning 2020 Speaker – YouTube) we hope to be able to collectively support the progress and availability of ‘Spectrum’ in the near future.

What happens next?

We are committed to taking lasting and ongoing action and progressing our plans publicly. The Board approved action plan on inclusion and diversity reflects ongoing commitment and progress in this area.

We are grateful to the many peer supporters in BfN from Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic backgrounds who took the time to talk with us about their lived experience of our support, training and volunteering. We welcome any other feedback, especially where you think we could do better. Please contact us ceo@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk


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