What’s Happening to Women in Turkey? #Challenge Accepted

Picture of By Melike Cagla Alpay

By Melike Cagla Alpay

On the 22nd of July, I woke up to yet another day of seeing a black and white photo of a vivacious woman on the news. Her strangled and partially burned body stashed inside a garbage barrel was found five days after her disappearance. The murderer tried to remove the traces of crime by burning her body in a garbage barrel in the forest and poured concrete on it.  During the testimony, he stated, “I killed her in a moment of anger” Pınar was the 32nd woman that got murdered in July. 

Pınar was a 27 years old university student. She got killed by Hakan Avcı, her ex-boyfriend, because she rejected him.

After this event, Turkish women started #challengeaccepted as a way to raise their voice, to stand in solidarity with the women, raise awareness about the Istanbul Convention, and to show that it could be their photo on the screens one day. We are well aware that our photos can be displayed for 15 seconds in the morning news.  It is normalized. People got used to seeing black and white pictures of murdered women. Every. Single. Day. In  2019 alone, there were 479 recorded femicides. Because most of these murderers are their boyfriends, husbands, or other close family members, most of them remain unrecognized. That is why it is a challenge to post a black and white photo in the first place.

A memorial in Turkey to commemorate women killed by their male counterparts. The artist, Vahit Tuna’s installation, called “anonymous,” representing 440  women to draw attention to femicides. 

What  Is the Istanbul Convention? 

It is a European human rights treaty signed in Istanbul in May 2011. It defines violence towards women as a violation of human rights. Identifies that what lies behind violence towards women is inequality in society and demands the government to take extensive policies to stop the violence.  It protects  women, children, the elderly, the disabled, immigrants, refugees, and individuals from the LGBTI+ community, briefly everyone who is exposed to domestic violence. It protects not only from the abuse of the nearest family members or friends but also from the harassment of the boss at work, the teacher at school, the police at the police station, or the men one doesn’t know on the streets or in public transport.

The best way to summarize the profoundly conservative government and social justice system in Turkey is to give a recent example. Y.C who was on trial for rape, was released free because “she didn’t scream during the event.” 992 out of every 1000 violent perpetrators move on without any punishments in Turkey.

Then came Pınar Gültekin, the hideous murder caused protests to break out in the country as it was the tipping point for women who felt increasingly endangered. The challenge started and women from all around the world shared black and white photos of themselves using the hashtags #KadınKadınınGücüdür #IstanbulSözleşmesiYaşatır which translates to “women are the power of the women” and “Istanbul convention saves lives.” A lot of support came from international celebrities and constitutions under the hashtags of #challengeaccepted #WomenSupportingWomen #WomenEmpoweringWomen.

As a Turkish woman, I am extremely disenchanted to witness all the violence. A lot has changed from the year in which the Istanbul Convention was signed until now both politically and socially. Cancellation of the Istanbul Convention means taking away the life security of many people. Even the fact that this has been a topic of discussion shows how much Turkey has changed since Atatürk gave women the freedom to vote and stand for election back in 1934.

What Can You Do?

Educate your friends and family on identifying and intervening when they suspect abuse. Avoid victim-blaming.

You can donate to Mor Çatı, a Women’s Shelter Foundation which was established in 1990 by feminists to combat violence against women.

Take action now and educate and advocate for those around you.

Cover: Birgün

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