If you’ve scrolled through Instagram over the past few days, you’ve probably noticed several black-and-white selfies of women with the hashtags #challengeaccepted, #empoweringwomen, and #womensupportingwomen.
From celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and politicians like Nikki Haley, the trend seems to be everywhere. The viral challenge appears to be a way for women to challenge other women to empower one another, but there's a deeper meaning behind the movement.
Though it’s important to empower other women in a culture that encourages us to tear each other down, the true story behind the movement isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Instagram user @beelzeboobz took to the platform to clarify what the movement is really about, writing, "Turkish people wake up every day to see a black and white photo of a woman who has been murdered on their Instagram feed, on their newspapers, on their TV screens. The black and white photo challenge started as a way for women to raise their voice. To stand in solidarity with the women we have lost. To show that one day, it could be their picture that is plastered across news outlets with a black and white filter on top."
While it can be argued that this campaign is "burying a Turkish Women’s Rights Campaign," it’s still possible to post these photos to help raise awareness for what is going on in Turkey.
Femicide Rates in Turkey
It’s estimated that 430 women were murdered in Turkey in 2019. According to the Turkish women’s rights group, We Will Stop Femicides Platform, 146 women were murdered in the first six months of 2020. The majority of these women are murdered by husbands or romantic partners in their homes and died from either gunshot wounds or stab wounds. With domestic violence on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, there seems to be no end in sight of these brutal murders.
430 women were murdered in Turkey in 2019.
It’s also estimated, by a 2009 study, that 42% of Turkish women between the ages of 15-60 have been physically or sexually abused by their husbands or romantic partners. "Honor killings" are also common in Turkey, where young women are killed at the hands of their father. In 2010, a 16-year-old girl was buried alive by her father after she was caught talking to a boy.
Turkish women have had enough. The recent murder of Pinar Gültekin has inspired many women to take to the streets in protest.
The Murder of Pinar Gültekin and Women’s Rights Protests
27-year-old Pinar Gültekin was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Cemal Metin Avci, on July 16. After he strangled her to death, he tried to burn her body, stuffed her in a barrel, and covered the barrel with cement out in the woods. He confessed to the murder when he was questioned by authorities, citing that he wanted to get back together with her and got angry when she rejected his advances. He was arrested and charged with her murder.
Gültekin’s story is horrific, but it’s not uncommon. Speaking at Gültekin’s funeral, her father pleaded for change. He said, “I am calling out to the whole of Turkey from here: enough is enough. Are we supposed to assign a guard to accompany every single girl student in Turkey? Can't a girl student go and study in a province where she wants? It is an atrocity. I am at a loss for words, I really am."
Her murder has sparked protests across the nation of brave Turkish women fighting against gender-based violence. A group of women protested in Istanbul, chanting, “We are here Pinar, we will hold them accountable.” Despite protests being peaceful, several demonstrators have been arrested and beaten.
Femicide rates are rising in Turkey.
Violence against women has increased over the past few decades in Turkey. Fidan Ataselim, general secretary of We Will Stop Femicide says, “Violence against women is a problem everywhere. In Turkey, we have a strong women’s rights movement, but we also face a lot of opposition. In the last 20 years, society has changed a lot: more women are demanding their right to work and go to university. The more choices we have, the more intense the backlash gets.”
“Our existing laws are actually strong, they’re just not enforced.”
Others attribute the rising femicide rate to a lack of law enforcement. Selin Nakipoğlu, a specialist in family law, says, “Our existing laws are actually strong, they’re just not enforced. On top of that, the government is trying to roll back things like child support and introduce mediation in divorce proceedings, even if there was violence in the marriage. An undercover journalist once rang the family consultation bureau and was told to pray and pacify her husband. Despite all of the government’s efforts, divorce rates are still going up. More and more women are rejecting these ideas.”
The timing of this event and the following protests have caused the perfect storm because Turkish politicians are advocating to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention.
What Is the Istanbul Convention?
Originally named the “Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence,” the Istanbul Convention is “a comprehensive legal framework and approach to combat violence against women.” Turkey was one of the 54 countries to sign it in 2011. But political activists across Turkey have suggested that they withdraw from the agreement. Ebru Asiltürk, the spokeswoman for women’s affairs for Turkey's Islamic conservative Saadet Party is against the document. She claims that it hurts the structure of the traditional Turkish family and "threatens the financial and moral integrity of families."
The Istanbul Convention is “a comprehensive legal framework and approach to combat violence against women.”
With recent events like the murder of Pinar Gültekin, pulling out of the agreement comes across as extremely tone deaf. There’s an epidemic of femicide in Turkey, and the Turkish government needs to be held accountable and do everything they can to stop this atrocity.
What You Can Do To Help
Don’t delete your black-and-white selfie just yet! Actress Florence Pugh adjusted her post by adding the hashtag #istanbulconventionsaveslives to help spread awareness about femicide in Turkey and the Istanbul Convention. I’d argue that this is much more proactive than deleting your original post. The movement’s original message has been lost, and it’s up to us to help restore the original meaning.
There are a few things you can to do help. The first is to speak out and spread awareness about the femicide epidemic in Turkey. If you truly care about empowering women, you should start with doing whatever you can to help the women in Turkey who are being brutally murdered. You can also sign a petition to help save the Istanbul Convention.
Unfortunately, this will be a long battle for the women of Turkey. As American women, we need to use our voices to stand up for the women of Turkey. The late and great John Lewis once said, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”
I think we can all agree that femicide has no place in 2020. We’re obligated to speak up.
The #challengeaccepted movement originally started to spread awareness about femicide in Turkey, but it got lost among millions of women sharing. Luckily, it’s not too late to take the movement back and spread awareness about femicide in Turkey.