CARIBBEAN WOMEN: YOU’RE THE BEST!
Dionne Gravesande pays tribute to the spiritual strength, fortitude and achievements of Caribbean women, and highlights three amazing women of Caribbean descent
I recently got caught up in deep conversation about the contributions of first generation Caribbean people in British society, particularly of the role mothers and grandmothers played in the formation of house prayer groups during the 1950s and 1960s.
I, like so many others, have been and continue to be inspired by these Christian women, who draw deeply upon their reserves of faith, wisdom and compassion to lead and serve their communities and nations. It seems that at every turn, they are working on the front lines to improve living conditions; avert violence; combat environmental problems, and spread peace. Their leadership has activated the social, moral and spiritual assets of their communities, and empowered them to act as leaders.
Women in the Caribbean are a cornerstone of the islands’ society, because no country can hope to move ahead if it is leaving half of its people behind. Here, I list three fantastic women of faith, who do and did amazing work which benefitted the wider community and created a legacy which continues to serve a generation beyond themselves.
Myriam Merlet was a trained economist. She was one of the most respected and admired leaders of the Haitian as well as the Caribbean women’s movements. Myriam served as the head of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs from 2006 to 2008, where she remained a senior adviser until she passed. Myriam Merlet had left Haiti in the 1970s, but returned soon after to stand up for gender as well as racial freedoms and equality. During her time at the Ministry, Myriam was a fearless, outspoken individual, and helped to draw international attention to the practice of rape as a political weapon, leading to the creation of the first safe house in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.
Another inspirational leader was the late Rev Dr Io Smith, who sadly passed in 2008. Born in Jamaica, Dr Smith was an ordained minister within the New Testament Assembly, and for several years served as pastor of the New Testament Assembly in Leyton, East London. She was renowned for her love for God and passion for young people. She established a number of community initiatives, including opening a youth hostel and old people’s home in the London borough of Waltham Forest, and funding the Io Smith primary and junior school in Ghana. Dr Smith also undertook many evangelistic missions in the Caribbean, the US and Canada, and launched the NTA’s first Youth Mass Choir. She was also author of ‘An Ebony Cross’, a groundbreaking book which chronicled her life as a Black female church leader. She was awarded an MBE in 1994 as acknowledgement and recognition of her community work.
The third inspirational woman of Caribbean roots, for me, is rhe Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin. Rose, who describes herself as ‘just another sister’, often speaks of her humble beginnings in Montego Bay, Jamaica but, despite those very humble beginnings, her faith within allowed her to dream big and accomplish the work that was to define her ministry – to serve others. Rev Hudson-Wilkin was appointed as the first Black female Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons in June 2010, and in 2007 she was appointed as Chaplain to the Queen. In addition to these two prestigious roles, she is the Vicar of two churches in the London diocese. Rev Hudson-Wilkin is committed to the ministry in which she serves. Whether in the tough community of Dalston or in the corridors of Westminster, she is upholding the basic belief that we are all created in the image of God and we are all equal in His sight.
I pay tribute to the women I list here, as I think each of them went beyond the extra mile, working for the wellbeing of both women and men. That said, I also recognise thousands more Black Christian woman across the Caribbean; they are our unsung ‘sheroes’; they are wives and mothers to the families they raise; they are sisters, aunties, grandmothers and elders to many of us in the communities. They remind the current generation of the values and ideals of our forefathers and foremothers: to live good and walk right in the sight of God, doing unto others as you do to yourself.
Women of faith across the Caribbean islands – whether in leadership or an unsung hero – we salute you and, as we are celebrating Jamaica’s 50th year of independence, I pay special recognition to the women of Jamaican heritage.
Dionne Gravesande is Head of Church and Young Peoples Relationship at Christian Aid