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For those who knew them, nothing will bring back sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, who were murdered in June 2020. But next week, their loved ones are coming together with campaigners, to celebrate their lives and call for an end to violence against women.
On August 3, Reclaim These Streets will be holding a vigil for the sisters, “remembering their lives surrounded by the people they loved, and lighting a candle for all the women threatened on our streets and lost to male violence”.
The event will be held on what would have been Nicole’s 29th birthday, at the request of the sisters’ mother, Mina Smallman.
Mina Smallman, who was the Church of England’s first female archdeacon of Black and minority ethnic descent, now retired, has been outspoken about the handling of her daughters’ deaths.
There was a delay in finding Bibaa and Nicole, and their mother has questioned whether this is because they were two missing Black women. When asked why the case had not received the level of outrage as the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, Smallman told the BBC: “Other people have more kudos in this world than people of colour.”
She added that she now occupies two roles – “mother and activist” – and will continue to fight for change.
On July 6, 19-year-old Danyal Hussein was found guilty of the sisters’ murders. In a separate court case, two police officers were also charged with misconduct in a public office, after sharing photographs taken at the crime scene.
Following those cases, Mina Smallman said of her daughters: “They should not simply be remembered as victims. While nothing can bring them back, we hope their lives can make a change in the way women are viewed, and Black women in particular.”
Ludovica Orlando, one of the campaigners behind Reclaim These Streets, says she was inspired by those words to organise a vigil for the sisters.
The campaign group were also behind the vigil organised for Sarah Everard in March. Although that event was officially called off following a controversial court ruling, hundreds of women still attended, with mourners including the Duchess of Cambridge leaving flowers around the bandstand at Clapham Common, close to where Everard disappeared.
Several other cities hosted vigils, gaining attention around the world.
“After seeing the discrepancy in coverage between the Sarah Everard case and the murders of Bibaa and Nicole and hearing Mina Smallman’s BBC interview, we felt that the way we could most be of service to their family was to use the spotlight that we had been given to help shine a light on her girls’ lives,” Orlando tells HuffPost UK.
“All too often the focus is on the men that kill us, not the lives and the promise that is taken away. We are inspired and motivated by Mina Smallman’s strength and example. We are following her lead in hoping that her daughters’ lives will change the way women are viewed.”
Orlando has been working in partnership with the sisters’ family to organise the vigil. She hopes the event will highlight that the public do care about violence against women of colour.
“There is a cyclical argument that there isn’t public interest so there is not as much coverage; we reject that,” she says. “We believe that every woman killed at the hands of a man needs to be front-page news. To do that, we must all come together and loudly proclaim that it is unacceptable. Living in fear is unacceptable.”
No mother should not be believed when reporting her children missing. No parent should read about images being shared by the police.Reclaim The Streets
The government recently unveiled its long-awaited Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy, laying out plans to tackle the issue, but Orlando says that it does not go far enough.
“The government seems to have lots of new strategies with very little implementation. They distanced themselves from earlier assurances about criminalising street harassment. They also have rejected our calls for anti-racism and anti-sexism training for the police,” she says.
“We also believe that the RSE [relationships and sex education] curriculum needs to include lessons on consent and respect. So much of changing the conversation around VAWG issues need to start with education, and educating boys will play a huge part in changing the culture.”
As well as holding vigils for women killed by men, Reclaim These Streets will continue to call for systemic change, she adds.
“In particular, Mina and her family have been disrespected at every turn. No mother should not be believed when reporting her children missing. No parent should read about images being shared by the police. No parent should have to listen to the testimony that she had to sit through,” says Orlando.
“We hope that by bringing members of the public together with Bibaa and Nicole’s loved ones – on what would have been Nicole’s 29th birthday – we will demonstrate to Mina and her family that the public is outraged.
“We remember them. We are saying their names and we will not forget them.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.