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The Instagram ‘Women Supporting Women’ Challenge Debate Revealed A Cause We Should All Back

And the actions we can take beyond posting a selfie

CONTENT WARNING: This article deals with the topic of sexual violence and may be triggering for some readers. If you need support, you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

If you’ve spent any time on Instagram in the last couple of days, you’ve likely seen the ‘Women Empowering Women’ challenge that has taken over many of our feeds.

Typically accompanied the hashtag #ChallengeAccepted, the challenge involves posting a black-and-white selfie (usually after you’ve been nominated by another one who has also done so), and then nominating several other women who inspire you, to do the same.

The trend has seen a number of Hollywood celebrities partake, including Jennifer Aniston, Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington and more, but despite the steep crescendo, the exact origins and reason for the challenge were largely unknown to many.

As with many forms of social media activism — cast your mind back to #BlackoutTuesday what appears to be one of the causes seemingly linked to the chainmail-style challenge has now picked up viral momentum.

Here, we break down where the trend apparently started and what you can actually do to support the cause it’s uncovered in the process.

What Is The ‘Women Supporting Women’ Instagram Challenge Actually Supposed To Be About?

The exact origins of the trend remain unclear. While some link its spike to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s viral speech, and others, to Brazilian journalist Ana Paula Padrão — including a representative of Instagram, who said it was the earliest post the company could surface for the current cycle of the trend — per The New York Times.

However, many on social media have spoken out and claimed that the challenge is linked to a movement that began in Turkey over a week ago to protest femicide, following the brutal murder of 27-year-old woman Pınar Gültekin by her former partner, Cemal Metin Avci, as well as several other women.

Times travel journalist Tariro Mzezewa also spoke out on the trend’s Turkish origins in a thread of tweets, writing:

“#ChallengeAccepted was making zero sense to me and I wasn’t buying that it was just for vanity’s sake. Talked to some women in Turkey this AM who say it started there as a response to them being frustrated over always seeing black and white photos of women who have been killed.”

She continued:

The Turkish hashtags about domestic violence and femicide were dropped as the challenge went viral. The images were for women to bond ‘but MORE importantly that we know that we can be the next trending image and hashtag’.” 

“The original accompanying hashtags were #kadınaşiddetehayır #istanbulsözleşmesiyaşatır which I’m told translate to say no to violence against women & enforce the Istanbul Treaty/ Doctrine (where rights to protect women are signed.)”

Turkish-American philanthropist Zeycan Rochelle also weighed in on the subject via an Instagram post, writing:

As #challengeaccepted continues to trend, here is some more information on the origin of the post & how it became suddenly popular out of nowhere! It began to spread first in Turkey as millions of us here grieve the deaths of several women, this week alone, who have garnered a lot of media attention as victims of femicide.”

She continued: “Your beautiful black & white photo is yes, meant to empower other women as your sister, but because so many men disregard & dispose us of our worth.”

Considering this style of trend has appeared in numerous iterations over the years — including, reportedly, in 2016 to spread a message of ‘cancer awareness’ — it seems possible that there are actually multiple versions occurring simultaneously, and they have begun to converge.

That said, what is going on in Turkey is very real, and to not acknowledge their movement, regardless of ‘which trend started first’ or ‘which hashtags were used’ would, ironically, given the call for women to support women, be a disservice to us all, reducing what could be powerful global action to actually support women, into nothing but an ephemeral hashtag.

So, What Is Happening To Women In Turkey?

Per The Guardian, who reported on Pınar Gültekin’s murder — which occurred on July 21 when her partner strangled her to death, burned her body in a garbage bin, and then covered it with concrete — violence against women in Turkey is longstanding, and seemingly worsening amid the pandemic.

“Violence against women and so-called ‘honour’ killings are deeply rooted and prevalent issues in Turkey. According to a 2009 study on prevention strategies, 42% of Turkish women aged between 15–60 had suffered some physical or sexual violence by their husbands or partners,” they reported.

“Every year, the problem is getting worse: in 2019, 474 women were murdered, mostly by partners and relatives, the highest rate in a decade in which the numbers have increased year-on-year. The figures for 2020, affected by coronavirus lockdowns, are expected to be even higher.

The outlet also reported that statistics related to violence against women are unreliable, as the government admitted that it did not keep records. Campaign group We Will Stop Femicide, who led a protest for the cause on July 19, have been tracking murders of women following the government’s admission.

Gültekin’s murder, along with the several other women’s, have also coincided with increased momentum to stop the Government from abolishing what is known as the Istanbul Convention.

The Istanbul Convention, which is shorthand for “Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”, is a European human rights treaty, signed in Istanbul in May 2011 and is, as the name suggests, designed to protect women against domestic and sexual violence.

Per The Guardian: “Small but powerful lobby groups have repeatedly petitioned for changes to the Istanbul convention on the grounds that it encourages divorce and ‘immoral lifestyles’.”

Currently, the treaty’s existence is under threat, as parliament debates its future.

How Can You Help Support Women In Turkey

There are a number of ways you can show your support to the women of Turkey as they fight for their rights, beyond sharing a black-and-white selfie on social media. 

They include:

1. Sign the petition to save the Istanbul Convention

The Istanbul Convention and what is known as ‘Law No. 6284’ were originally put in place to prevent violence against women. Although this not been implemented properly, it is now on the Turkish government’s agenda to be abolished entirely.

By signing and sharing the campaign, you can both demand our existing rights and ensure that this campaign reaches women who are not aware of these rights.

Per the petition (translated from Turkish):

“Law No. 6284, which exists but is not effectively implemented, gives women the following rights:

● Placement of women and children in a shelter located in another city or city,
● Providing temporary protection (close protection) in case of life-threatening,
Removing the violent from the house and preventing the woman who is exposed to violence from approaching your addresses such as residence, school, workplace,
● Preventing violent users from disturbing them with communication tools such as telephone, mail and social media,
● Hiding the address of the woman who has been subjected to violence so that she does not appear in any institution,
● Change of the workplace,
● The violator surrendering his gun to the police (even if he is serving as a police and gendarme),
● Temporary financial assistance,
● A family residence comment on the house where the woman lives,
● Temporary custody and measure alimony,
● Changing your identity and other related information may be requested,
● In addition, even if the woman is not insured or if the insurance premium debt is valid, she can benefit from health services within the scope of insurance and take your medicines within the scope of the protection decision.”

You can sign the petition here.

2. Donate To A Women’s Shelter In Istanbul

If you have the financial capacity to, you can also show your support by donating to a women’s shelter in Istanbul. The American University Turkish Club, who spearheaded the movement early on, recommended the following:

Mor Çatı Kadın Sığınağı Vakfı (Purple Roof Women’s Shelter Foundation)

The Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation was established in 1990 by feminists in order to combat violence against women. At Mor Çatı, the work against male violence is grounded in feminist principles, aiming for women to be able to build lives unhindered by gender-based discrimination and male violence under free and equal conditions. In addition to providing shelter and helping women rebuild their lives, the foundation monitors and reports on laws, makes policy recommendations to decision-makers and runs workshops with both local and international women’s organisations, among other things.

You can donate to Mor Çatı Kadın Sığınağı Vakfı here.

Small Projects Istanbul

Small Projects Istanbul is an NGO established in 2015 in Çapa, Istanbul, to support those displaced by conflict in Syria, the Middle East and the North Africa Region. They run a five-storey facility that operates seven days a week and offers quality community services with a special focus on children, youth and women through educational, psycho social support, social cohesion, skills and leadership development and income generation.

You can donate to Small Projects Istanbul here.

3. Follow American University Turkish Cultural Club for updates and more information

One of the first pages on Instagram to post corroborated information about the tragic killing of Pınar Gültekin and shed light on what is currently happening in Turkey, the American University Turkish Cultural Club is a great source for updates in English.

Follow @auturkishculturalclub here.

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