Authors Introduce the Black Feminist and Womanist Analytical Path to Health Equity

March 29, 2021

Schematic of The Black Feminist and Womanist Analytical Path to Health Equity

WASHINGTON, DC (March 29, 2021)— Achieving health equity for Black women and girls requires using a different form of policy analysis, argues a new commentary in Women's Health Issues. The authors propose a new approach: the Black Feminist and Womanist (BFW) Analytical Path to Health Equity.

Jameta N. Barlow, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of writing, women's leadership, and health policy and management at the George Washington University (GW), and Breya M. Johnson, MA, who was a graduate student at GW while writing the commentary, contextualize their work in a history that dates back to Sojourner Truth’s “And ain’t I a woman” speech and extends to the #SayHerName movement against police violence. “When Black women use their experiences to theorize and organize, movements begin,” they state.

Standard approaches to policy analysis tend to focus on deficits and contain biases that can impede implementation of policies in ways that benefit the health of Black girls and women, Barlow and Johnson explain. They propose the BFW Analytical Path to Health Equity, which takes a strength-based approach, assesses gendered racism, reflects the experiences of Black girls and women, and centers Black girls’ and women’s collective agency over their bodies when refining recommendations. “Recommendations must augment the everyday decisions and solutions Black girls and women engage in regularly, for and with one another,” they write.

Barlow and Johnson give examples of three areas where decision makers could apply the BFW Analytical Path to Health Equity: essential workers or Black communities experiencing adverse effects of COVID-19; breast cancer mammography screening recommendations in an environment where Black women are more likely to die of breast cancer; and Black women having the highest rate of maternal mortality in the United States. 

In addition, Barlow and Johnson challenge decision makers who are committed to real structural and sustainable change to take several key steps: “1) decolonize science and health, 2) defund the police and invest in under-resourced communities, 3) pay reparations for uncompensated work and historical and psychological trauma and distress, 4) fund Black women-led research to assess gaps that relate to Black women's health and inform policy on the science and health care agendas, 5) mobilize a sustainable Black political party, and 6) listen to Black women.”

The commentary was published in Women’s Health Issues, the official journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is based at the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH).

“I hope that readers will use this work to inform their epistemologies, methodologies, and policies that currently marginalize the perspectives, needs, and humanity of Black women,” Barlow said of the commentary.

“At a time when problems like COVID-19 and maternal mortality are disproportionately harming Black women, the need for a new analytic approach is acute,” said Amita Vyas, Editor-in-Chief of Women's Health Issues and associate professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute SPH. “We're thrilled to publish this introduction to the Black Feminist and Womanist Analytical Path to Health Equity and hope policymakers, researchers, and community leaders will use it to advance public health in a way that corrects inequities rather than entrenching them.”

Listen to Black Women: Do Black Feminist and Womanist Health Policy Analyses” has been published in the March/April issue of Women’s Health Issues.