Recently, the Internet has been awash with black and white selfies of women, some of them everyday, some of them celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Christina Aguilera. Underneath these photos is a hashtag, #ChallengeAccepted.
The challenge has been met with confusion. People have been unsure of its purpose. Others have understood that it is in some way related to female empowerment, but have questioned its value or dismissed it as a shallow feminist gesture. What is less commonly known is the real meaning behind #ChallengeAccepted which became lost as the trend became viral and participants barely drew attention to what it was truly about.
#ChallengeAccepted was conceived as a gesture of solidarity in relation to the anger of Turkish women in response to their country’s record on femicide and gender-based violence. The black and white photos are designed to mimic photos of murdered women that are used in the media in reports of femicide. It represents not only an act of solidarity, but an attempt to raise awareness of one of Turkey’s most troubling and prominent social issues, driven by misogyny, with little to hope for in terms of progress.
Turkey’s difficult history with violence against women has been a long-standing issue and one that is gradually worsening. According to a study undertaken in 2009, 42% of Turkish women and girls aged 15-60 had experienced some form of violence – physical, sexual or potentially both – at the hands of their husbands or partners. In total, between 2008 and 2019, at least 3,185 Turkish women were murdered by men and every year, the number of victims increases. 474 of these women were killed in 2019 alone, mostly by their husbands, partners or male relatives. The figure is expected to increase again in 2020, in part due to the levels of domestic violence skyrocketing, during the coronavirus lockdowns. So far, as of July 2020, 155 Turkish women have been murdered.
In total, between 2008 and 2019, at least 3,185 Turkish women were murdered by men and every year, the number of victims increases
Worse still, these statistics have not been compiled by the Turkish government. We are only aware of the levels of femicide in Turkey because of the efforts of the campaign group We Will Stop Femicide. They compiled the figures using news reports and information provided to them by families of murdered women. The government has readily admitted that they don’t keep records of the women who have been murdered. Although some government statistics do exist, they are considered to be largely unreliable.
The outrage at these astonishing figures has always been present, but in recent weeks, it has reached a boiling point. This was fuelled by the murder of 27-year-old student Pınar Gültekin at the hands of her former partner, Cemal Metin Avcı. Avcı beat and strangled Gültekin to death before burning her body and covering it in concrete. He has since been detained on charges of homicide. However, Avcı. has reportedly placed the blame for his actions on Gültekin herself.
Vigils were held for Gültekin and other victims of femicide in several cities around Turkey, including the capital Istanbul. Women were seen waving purple flags and chanting “We are here Pınar, we will hold them accountable.” This gave rise to demonstrations and in the province of Izmir, the police brutally attacked some of those present and detained sixteen protesters. In the aftermath of these protests, calls for solidarity were made on social media in the form of #ChallengeAccepted. Before its real meaning was lost, however, there was another hashtag that was used. It translates to ‘Istanbul Convention Saves Lives’.
It seems a tragic irony that the situation with violence against women in Turkey is so severe in a country where the world’s most comprehensive legal treaty designed to tackle violence against women was drawn up. The Istanbul Convention, the first treaty of its kind in Europe, has been described by UN Women as the ‘gold standard’ for tackling violence against women and its pragmatic and broad nature has won it awards. Since it was drawn up, thirty-four countries in Europe have ratified it – the UK isn’t one of them but it has committed to doing so in response to extensive grassroots campaigning.
It seems a tragic irony that the situation with violence against women in Turkey is so severe in a country where the world’s most comprehensive legal treaty designed to tackle violence against women was drawn up
The Istanbul Convention recognises that violence against women is both a form of discrimination and a violation of human rights. Consequently, its ratification would guarantee the right for women and girls to live their lives free from violence or the threat of violence. It also classifies FGM, domestic violence, forced marriage and so called honour-based violence as forms of gender-based violence and mandates that all of these are criminalised, alongside psychological violence, stalking, rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced abortion and forced sterilisation. Similarly, the law stipulates that criminal sanctions must be implemented against sexual harassment. It also sets minimum standards for governments to meet in fighting violence against women and they become legally bound to follow these standards and sufficiently monitor the level of violence against women in a country.
Despite this, the Istanbul Convention’s future in Turkey is under threat and it is a situation not unique to Turkey either since it has just been repealed in Poland. Speaking to The Guardian, family law solicitor Selin Nakipoğlu has highlighted that while the Convention is a good legal framework, it is not being enforced as it should be by the Turkish government.
However, this issue only scratches the surface of the threat to the convention’s future. Numerous politicians in Turkey have openly criticised it for allegedly posing a threat to ‘traditional family values’ as well as encouraging divorce and ‘immoral lifestyles’. Lobbyists have been pushing the government to roll back the legislation for these reasons and politicians have consequently begun to debate its future in the Turkish Parliament. The deputy chair of the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), Numan Kurtulmus went as far to describe the convention as ‘very wrong’, especially since it allegedly ‘[plays] into the hands of LGBT and marginal elements’ within Turkish society.
Evidently, it is the misogyny of individual members of the Turkish government that is motivating these decisions alongside other moves to curtail the rights of women. The country’s president, Recept Tayyip Erdogan has openly stated a belief that women are unequal to men and has described women without children as ‘deficient’. In addition, former Prime Minister Binali Yildrim has suggested that the solution to men attacking women simply for wearing shorts is to encourage men to verbally harass them instead. Nakipoğlu has argued that comments like these from men in power legitimise misogyny and entrench it deeper into the fabric of society. In turn, sexism becomes acceptable and normalised, allowing it to slip under the radar, and acts of misogyny, such as violence against women, persist.
It is the misogyny of individual members of the Turkish government that is motivating these decisions alongside other moves to curtail the rights of women
The situation Turkish women are facing appears bleak and is set to potentially worsen, especially if the Istanbul Convention is rolled back. The anti-femicide protests in the country did offer a spark of hope, provoking the government to push back the debate over the law by a week. However, whether their efforts will be enough to ensure a future for the Istanbul Convention remains to be seen.