Racism in Health Care: Experiences of Childbearing Women of African Descent

By Josephine Etowa and Barbara Keddy.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Understanding the complex ways in which racism creates different health care experiences for marginalized groups is critical to effectively addressing disparities in health and health care. This paper presents the findings of a study that examined the perinatal health care experiences of women of African descent using the principles of participatory action research (PAR) as the guiding tenet for the research process. PAR facilitated opportunities for collaboration between different stakeholders including academic and community researchers in the design, implementation, data collection and analysis of the research as well as dissemination of the research findings. Specifically, the study explored the childbirth experiences of women of African descent living in Nova Scotia; a province with one of the largest indigenous Black populations in Canada. Interviews took place in participants’ homes while the focus group discussions were nested within the regular meetings of an already existing local health network. These meetings were held in a local health facility predominantly used by members of the Black community. Eight women participated in individual interviews and thirty women participated in four focus groups in the health facility. Thematic analysis was used to generate the major categories of the data.

Findings revealed five major themes: “racism in health care”, the meaning of the childbirth experience; issues of access to health care; lack of culturally appropriate care and the value of support network. This paper focuses on racism in health care. Racism occurred in the form of attitudes, practices, customs, rules and organizational cultures that unnecessarily disadvantage people because of their race, color or ethnicity. It was evident at both the individual and systemic levels. The study findings call for a model of care that enables health care providers to effectively address the unique needs of ethno-racial minorities accessing health care services. The paper will conclude with recommendations for ensuring equity in health and health care including identifying diverse needs and responding with inclusive and flexible services, in which all people irrespective of racial background benefit equally.

Keywords: Racism, Health Care, Childbearing, Black Women

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp.17-34. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.199MB).

Prof. Josephine Etowa

Associate Professor, School of Nursing, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Dr. Josephine Etowa currently works as an Associate Professor at Dalhousie University School of Nursing. Her employments history spans across international, multicultural and community development issues. She has midwifery and nursing experiences and has worked in a number of roles within the Canadian health care system including working as a lactation consultant, professional development consultant and research associate. Her research program is in the areas of: African Canadians’ health, maternal child health, multiculturalism in health care, immigrant people, women’s health and issues of inequities and social justice. In addition to her current role as a Professor of Nursing, she is actively involved in a number of community development initiatives. Dr Etowa is a founding member and past president of the Health Association of African Canadians (HAAC).

Dr. Barbara Keddy

Professor Emeritus, School of Nursing, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Dr. Barbara Keddy is Professor Emerita, School of Nursing, Dalhousie University. She has published extensively in the area of social justice and women’s health and has mentored numerous students in those fields. Her website exemplifies her interest in women’s health. She can be found at www.womenandfibromyalgia.com


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