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The real unacceptable challenge behind #ChallengeAccepted

By Sinem Blien- Onabanjo
01 August 2020   |   3:00 am
If you’ve spotted the Black-and-White selfies of women accompanied by the words “Challenge accepted,” along with the hashtags #womenempowerment and #womensupportingwomen last week

If you’ve spotted the Black-and-White selfies of women accompanied by the words “Challenge accepted,” along with the hashtags #womenempowerment and #womensupportingwomen last week or accepted the challenge yourself, please spare a thought for Özgecan Aslan, Şule Çet, Pınar Gültekin, and many others.

I wrote about Özgecan Aslan in this column back in 2019 – Özgecan, the 19-year-old university student, who was murdered in 2015 on a minibus in the Mersin district of Turkey, after she resisted a rape attempt by the driver and his associates.

Then, there was Şule Çet. “I can’t get out of here. The man is obsessed with me. He won’t let me go. I wish I hadn’t come,” she wrote in a text to a friend shortly before her death.

When the 23-year-old’s body was found on the street beneath a plaza in Turkey’s capital in May 2018 after she allegedly fell from the 20th floor of a high-rise building, her death was initially ruled as suicide.

After intense campaigning by activists, the case was reopened as a murder investigation. In December 2019, businessman Çağatay Aksu to life for the murder of Çet, He received an additional 12 years and six months for sexual assault and deprivation of liberty, while his accomplice Berk Akand was sentenced to 18 years and nine months for assisting in the crimes.

The latest in a string of femicides is that of university student Pınar Gültekin. She was reported missing in Turkey’s Aegean province of Muğla on July 16 and was found dead in a forest area five days later. 

It was Gültekin’s murder that inspired the black-and-white photo challenge as Turkish women started posting in protest to the heightened violence against women in Turkey. Then, like any social media trend that goes viral, by the time it had reached the shores of far-flung lands such as the USA or Nigeria, the origin had long been forgotten in what in 48 hours became a light-hearted expression of female solidarity. As I saw frame after frame of beautiful black and white images shared with #womensupportingwomen #womenempowerment hashtags I started second-guessing the origin myself. What had begun as a feverish outcry had become a frivolous celebration of womanhood. Not that there is anything wrong with celebrating womanhood of course, but not when it at the expense of protesting violence against women.

There are women in my home country Turkey and around the world who cannot laugh, love, live as I can – without limits, without trepidation, without fear. Turkey is one of the leading countries when it comes to femicide.

In 2019, 474 women were killed there—a 200% increase since 237 women were lost in 2013. 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 partners. It is also estimated that, so far in 2020 alone, 146 Turkish women have been murdered.

The black and white selfies were the social media outcry of a nation’s women not only against the brutal murders of women like you and me but also the government’s failure to hold their murderers accountable as well as its efforts to abolish certain aspects of the Istanbul Convention, a human right treaty that protects women against domestic violence.

Women aged 15-60 sexually harassed, repeatedly abused, violently raped, brutally murdered. Women who are not allowed to laugh, love, live. Women whose hopes, dreams and even lives are stolen by men – a violent husband, a jealous ex-boyfriend, an overbearing brother or an “honourable” father. 

In Turkey, and many other parts of the world, women, like you and me, are just one second or one slap away from being eternalised in their black and white portrait photos which decorate the collars of good wishes at their funeral or the page three (the page where you can find reports of murders and petty crimes in Turkish papers) reports of their day. In the hands of cruel men, their lives are snuffed out and their names reduced to a hashtag under countless black and white photos on social media feed. 

With each hashtag, each new photo, each new name, our hearts break all over again because we know it could have easily been a friend, or a sister or even us. 

As you accept and spread #challengeaccepted please spare a minute to find out how the hashtag went viral in #Turkey and spread around the world. This is not a vanity trend, it is more than just #womensupportingwomen #womenempowerment