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The Women of Turkey Deserve Better Than Your Selfie

By Lauren Hutton

A recent viral trend entailed women sharing a black and white photo of themselves with captions that read “challenge accepted,” and “#WomenSupportingWomen.” The movement was met with mixed responses some viewed it as harmless positivity, others saw it as pointless, and many believed it was damaging at a time when social media activism is heightened and making a positive difference in some cases; the lack of a call to action for any disenfranchised group had some feeling the Women Supporting Women trend distracted from more pressing movements. 

Interestingly, many individuals wrongly associated the challenge with a recent movement to support Turkish individuals who are organizing against excessive violence against women in the nation. While that turned out not to be the challenge’s true origin, the trend did end up raising global consciousness over the violence Turkish women are facing. 

In 2009, the Turkish government stopped reporting and counting killings of women. In response, the We Will Stop Femicide Platform emerged and now reports the killings on a monthly basis. In June 2020, 27 women were counted as murdered. Fourteen of these women were killed for “trying to decide on their own life” according to a translated version of the organization’s webpage. This category describes women who were killed for wanting a divorce, rejecting reconciliation, or rejecting a relationship with an intimate partner.

The website details some of these murders with chilling details that paint a picture of a culture rooted in misogyny. The murderers included husbands, familiar men, male relatives, three fathers, and one boyfriend. The methods ranged from shootings to cutting tool stabbings to several drownings. The fact that none of these murders were random or based on monetary gain and instead all revolved around interpersonal relationships tells a grim story. These acts of violence targeted women who were refusing to be controlled by men, and they lost their life for that relative freedom.

As I read these gruesome details, painstakingly recorded each month, I couldn’t help but reflect back to my time in Turkey earlier this year. I thought of the local woman who worked at my hostel. She prepared a traditional breakfast each morning, patiently miming how to use a hot water machine I was unfamiliar with and gesturing to the best of the breakfast spread. She would breastfeed her baby in my shared room after breakfast every day, curled up on a couch and stroking her daughter’s rounded cheeks. I thought of my walking tour guide, a university graduate who spoke passionately about being a Muslim. She emphatically explained why she didn’t feel compelled to wear a hijab as she directed us around the historic part of Istanbul and waited for us to remove our shoes before entering the Blue Mosque. I thought of the Syrian refugee I passed on my street, a mother holding a child who couldn't have been more than five. I awoke later that evening to her shouting and rushed to my window to witness a man demean and scream at her as she carried her child and walked away. I even thought of the French girl who bunked above me, a tourist like myself. She was planning an extravagant trip to the south of the country and hoped to hitchhike the 434 mile journey with native Turkish drivers. I thought of all of these women kind aids, intelligent students, curious travelers, and dedicated mothers and I felt afraid for each of them. 

The We Will Stop Femicide organization argues that Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul is failing to address the issue in Turkey. His rhetoric favors saying women have died, rather than acknowledging that they are being killed, not dying from illnesses or accidents. They write, “the death of women killed by men cannot be normalized due to gender inequality.” The platform is now advocating for the sustainment of the Istanbul Convention, the Council of Europe's human rights treaty which urges countries to establish equal rights for women and enact legislation that protects them from violence. Turkey may withdraw from the convention in the near future thanks to pressure from conservative media which believes the convention negatively affects family values. The announcement of this potential move led to widespread protests across the country. 

Protests over violence against women also erupted at the end of July when university student Pinar Gultekin was killed by her ex-boyfriend. Pinar was strangled, placed into a barrel, burned, and poured over with concrete. This murder led to a viral hashtag (#pinargultekin) that was aimed at raising awareness of femicides in Turkeywhich have more than doubled since 2012 and are still underreported. 

Women’s rights groups are fighting not only for the convention to remain in place, but for the laws it generates to be implemented fully and taken seriously. So, what can we do to help beyond posting a black and white photo? Here are some options:

Sign this petition to pledge your support for the convention which, as a reminder, strives to protect survivors of domestic and sexual violence and enforce perpetrators’ punishments. Then, use this letter guide, created by the TCK-103 Women Against Child Sexual Abuse Platform, to email members of the Central Executive Committee of the Justice and Development Party and urge them to keep the convention in place. Donate to the Purple Roof Women’s Shelter Organization, an organization in Istanbul and the only independent women's shelter in Turkey. Finally, if you speak Turkish, consider joining one of We Will Stop Femicide’s volunteer committees, doing everything from offering legal aid to aiding in the platform’s magazine creation or social media presence. 

The next time a social media trend goes viral and you are invited to participate, stop and ensure you understand the reason beyond your posting and what tangible benefits can come from it. Are you centering yourself instead of those in need? Could you better use the time it takes to select and edit a selfie to advocate for actionable solutions instead? Is there a benefit to your participation, or would it merely be performative? This article isn’t intended to shame anyone who partook in the Women Supporting Women challenge and it is easy to understand why someone who was nominated by a friend to post a selfie and celebrate women wouldn’t see any harm in doing so. But in a time where social media is oversaturated with social justice causes (and rightfully so), choosing how and when we partake needs to involve some critical thinking. 


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