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‘Stop colluding with our silence’ Bishop of Dover tells those gathered to honour murdered women

15 June 2023

GRAHAM LACDAO/ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL

Left to right: the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin; the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Andrew Tremlett; and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally

Left to right: the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin; the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Andrew Tremlett; and the Bishop of Lond...

A CALL for an end to silence about, and indifference towards, the violent deaths of women and girls was issued by the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, at St Paul’s Cathedral on Sunday.

Preaching at a service to honour such women and girls, three years after the deaths of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry (News, 19 June 2020), Bishop Hudson-Wilkin said: “We must commit ourselves to become the change that we need to see. In the words of the song, ‘Take a look at the man in the mirror’. . . we do not look to others to ring in the change — let us begin to model that change, to live and be the change.”

She called on those gathered to “stop colluding with our silence”, to stop saying, “I’ll just look after number one or me and mine.” Women victims of violence were “our sisters, our daughters, our mothers, and our grandmothers because ultimately, we are from the same heavenly father.”

Her sermon drew on the words of a Civil Rights anthem (“We Shall Overcome”), Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, and Bob Marley, and from The Woman King, a film released last year. The film had included the line: “If you want to hold a people in chains you must first convince them that they are meant to be bound.”

She warned: “With our silence and our indifference, we join them by becoming our own oppressors. . . We must free ourselves from treating different parts of humanity as less than full human beings. . . Let’s keep that mirror sparkling clean so that we never forget the role we must play in making a difference through our actions.”

GRAHAM LACDAO/ST PAUL’S CATHEDRALThe Ven. Mina Smallman

Humanity had created a “world with exceptions” to the imago Dei, including religious institutions in which “we have created and continue to create exceptions by claiming a direct hotline to God which sees women and girls and many others treated as being less human,” she said.

“It is time that we challenge this way of being, and recognise that we cannot continue to perpetuate this evil under the guise of religion, culture, or tradition. We cannot keep hearing about the good old days and not challenge the kind of misogyny, racist, and homophobic foundations that have contributed directly and indirectly — and continue to contribute — to the deaths of thousands of women and girls.”

The service was conceived by the Ven. Mina Smallman, the first female archdeacon of colour in the Church of England, and the mother of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry. Entitled “It’s Time” — a call that Bishop Hudson-Wilkin used as a refrain in her sermon — it was held in collaboration with St Paul’s Cathedral and the Mayor of London. It was attended by the families of those who had lost loved ones to violence, who entered the Cathedral accompanied by victim support workers and family liaison officers.

Last week, Archdeacon Smallman said that her intention was to give families “the opportunity to celebrate the lives of those they’ve lost and join together to call for an end to this epidemic of violence against women and girls. . . We need to put women and girls’ safety at the top of our society’s agenda, recognising that those of colour are at greater risk of violence and abuse.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “There is an epidemic of violence against women and girls across the UK which needs to be treated with the utmost urgency — not just by the police and partners, but our society as a whole. It is incumbent on all of us — particularly men — to challenge misogyny wherever it may be found. We must reject the hateful words and toxic attitudes that can inspire violent actions and stand resolute in solidarity with women and girls.”

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said: “The system is failing women and girls, and has been for far too long. A woman is killed every three days by a man in the UK — a figure which should shame us all. Change is long overdue, and it is incumbent upon us all to ensure that women and girls can live without fear of violence and abuse.”

In 2021, two Metropolitan police officers were jailed after a court found they had taken and shared images of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry at the scene of the crime (News, 10 December 2021). The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) found that officers had failed the family. The women’s bodies were found by Ms Smallman’s partner, after friends and family conducted a search. “The time for apologies has long gone,” Archdeacon Smallman said at the time. “Sorry is something you say when you comprehend the wrong you have done and take full responsibility for it, demonstrating that by taking appropriate proportionate action — which the Met Police have failed to do.”

The Archbishops’ Taskforce’s report on addressing racism in the Church, published earlier this year, was dedicated to the memory of Ms Smallman and Ms Henry at the request of members of the taskforce.

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