Trust Black Women: A community-based participatory research project in collaboration with SisterSong

While it is acknowledged that the lived experience of Black women contributes to differences in sexual and reproductive health outcomes, few studies have attempted to understand how the lived experience influences perspectives of and engagement with sexual and reproductive health.

Between January 2018 and January 2020, Ibis partnered with SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (SisterSong) on a community-based participatory research (CBPR) study to get an understanding of the reproductive health experiences and concerns of Black women living in Georgia and North Carolina. The study centered the work of SisterSong’s Trust Black Women Partnership which aims to eradicate stereotypes and uplift the voices of Black women.

Our study: Trust Black Women: Listen to us about our reproductive lives, aimed to expand the cache of reproductive health narratives of Black women; moving public health discussion beyond sexual risk taking behaviors. We asked Black women to tell us about their:

  1. Current reproductive health concerns
  2. The factors that influence their reproductive health decision making
  3. And provide some insights into how to engage Black communities around different reproductive health topics

We implemented a series of activities aligned with a CBPR approach such as developing principles of engagement for both organizations, creating a research protocol and accompanying data collection instruments, identifying and inviting Black women from the community to participate in a Research Board, and working with community organizations to collect the data.

From six focus group discussions and 25 in-depth interviews, several themes emerged under seven broad categories: sexual education; body lessons; sexual and reproductive health utilization; pregnancy experience; maternal health; reproductive health concerns; and the Black family. Further, findings highlight the role of geographic context; living in the south—where there are restrictions on abortion care, limits on insurance coverage for abortion and maternal health, abstinence only sex education programs, and pro-childbearing views—impacts quality of care, feelings of autonomy, access, and reproductive and sexual health knowledge.

We believe in the power of storytelling and that data collected for Black women by Black women enhances the authenticity of the findings. We hope our findings will call into focus gaps in resources and policy efforts aimed at improving reproductive health outcomes and shift narratives that both perpetuates stigma and harms within Black communities.