What is Happening to Turkish Women?

"Asla sessiz kalmayacagiz". We will never be silent. Thousands of women have repeated this motto during the protests over the past few days across Turkey. The new purple wave, the color traditionally linked to violence against women, shows no sign of stopping in Istanbul and Ankara, and is also spreading to cities where the Islamic Party's AKP - party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - has an overwhelming majority.

It all started at the beginning of last week, when the charred body of a young woman was found in the woods of the Mugla region, on the southern Aegean coast. Those places, known for the beauty of the sea and nature, have given way to a horror story that has deeply shaken the country. The victim's name is Pinar Gultekin. She was just 27, a beautiful woman studying economics. Her ex-boyfriend, Cemal Metin Avci, 32 years old with a son from a previous relationship, killed her in cold blood: she was beaten and then strangled to death. He also revealed horrible details of the murder, as if he was proud of himself: "It took me 20 seconds maximum to strangle her - he said to the police - Then I burned her body."

A brutal crime, that he probably committed to punish Pinar, who had a life ahead and did not want to be suffocated by an all-consuming relationship. A brutal crime that in Turkey has provoked a reaction that is pouring from social media into the streets, and needs to be heard.


Credit photo: Yasin Akgul/AFP

Protests started a couple of days ago in Istanbul, where thousands of women took to the streets, with signs bearing the faces of other innocent victims of brutal and unjustified violence. Burcu Cifti, Yagmur Onut, Deniz Aktas and dozens of other women. All young people whose lives have been cut short at the hands of men over the years and who often have not obtained justice.

One of the reasons that triggered this strong reaction in the country is the fact that the fate of Pinar Gultekin looks too similar to the one of Ozgecan Aslan, a student from the southeast of the Turkey, stabbed and charred because she had resisted an attempted rape. The brutality of the murder triggered a wave of strong indignation across the country, so much so that thousands of people, even in conservative Anatolia, went around in black clothes for days, as a form of collective mourning.

After Pinar’s death, the protests also escalated because this brutal murder comes a few days after a speech by Numan Kurtulmus, AKP vice president and one of the men closest to president Erdogan, during which he stated the increasingly likely withdrawal of Turkey from the Istanbul Convention. "That signature was a mistake - said Kurtulus - There are two issues in this convention which we do not approve of. First is the gender issue and the other is sexual orientation issue. There are also other issues but these two have been the concepts which have played into the hands of LGBT and marginal elements. They have taken refuge behind these concepts.”

Women’s rights in Turkey

Yet another murder of a Turkish woman has shocked the public and caused a wave of outrage. Unfortunately, violence against women is not uncommon in the country, quite the opposite. The gender role, women's status and women's rights in contemporary Turkey are determined by a continuing militant struggle on gender equality. Women there continue to be the victims of rape and honor killings, and also face significant disparities in employment, and, in some regions, even education.

Every year, the problem worsens. According to We Will Stop Femicide Platform, in 2019 474 women were murdered, mostly by partners and relatives. The highest rate in a decade. And though there are no official figures yet for 2020, the numbers are expected to be even higher.

Coronavirus played a key role. Since the country introduced lockdown measures, there has been a rise in the number of cases of domestic violence. Gulsum Kav, the director of We Will Stop Femicide Platform, said that "There are significantly more people calling our hotlines.”

Women's rights organisations are calling for better protection, but the government is doing nothing. Femicides in Turkey is a problem that keeps being ignored.

What you also need to know about the black and white pictures

If you’ve been anywhere near the internet, you probably saw a bunch of black and white pictures posted by women on their Instagram accounts. This new trend, that goes by the hashtag #challengeaccepted, is flooding our social media, with celebrities and not posting these monochrome images (supposedly) as a way to raise women up. This catchphrase, born and growing on social media, is all female: over six million women have shared their images, and the trend keeps on expanding worldwide.

Unfortunately, I believe a lot of women didn't know what they were doing by sharing the picture. So what is really behind this trend? Initially it was thought that this challenge started to raise awareness on femicide in Turkey, however, this theory has been debunked by New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz. The #challengeaccepted hashtag has been around since 2016, and this is just the latest manifestation of it. No more. It is obviously great that Turkish women are now hopping on the trend this way, and that it is helping to raise awareness on women’s conditions and femicide in Turkey, but that wasn't the intention when celebs started posting b&w shots.

So instead of using this as an excuse to share an artsy black and white selfie with the vague-sounding pledge to support other women, only to make you feel like you’re taking a stand while actually say almost nothing, wouldn't it be better for everyone to seek accurate information before posting? Ask yourself: how can a monochrome vanity selfie seriously support women?


Credit photo: @KadinCinayeti

Written by Miriam Tagini 

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