Behind #ChallengeAccepted campaign; anger over the increasing femicides in Turkey and the Istanbul Convention

This summer social media feeds were stormed by black-and-white selfies of women with the hashtag of #ChallengeAccepted and #WomenEmpowerment and the users got more curious about the campaign as many celebrities joined the campaign and it went viral.

#ChallengeAccepted hashtag and selfie format were first used in 2016 to raise awareness about cancer. This time, on the other hand, the hashtag was used by Turkish women to draw attention of the world to the increasing femicide in Turkey, show Turkish government that they are not giving up on the Istanbul Convention and be in solidarity with all the women subjected to violence. So why is femicide on the rise in Turkey? What is the Istanbul Convention and why is it very crucial to the women?

“Kadın cinayetleri politiktir!”- Femicides are political! This slogan, which women shout whenever they hit the streets with anger to protest the male violence, says a lot. The reason why women are killed is neither men’s love nor their jealousy. Femicide and violence against women are systematic as they are continuous, conscious and naturalized by misogynist actions, discourses and practises of the society and the state. Patriarcal structure, states and their laws claim control over women by exposing them to all types of discrimination, violence and oppression.

Turkey has been ruled by such a sexist, fascist and patriarchal ideology for the last 18 years that the AKP government carries out its policies through claiming more control on women’s bodies and justifying femicides or rapes by blaming women for their choices over their body and their lives. In many cases, men who killed their ex-wives, ex-girlfriends or raped women got ‘good conduct abatement’ for wearing a suit in the court, regretting what they did or saying that they were seduced/provoked by the victim. The president Erdoğan’s sexist and misogynist statements like
“Women are at the mercy of men”, “Women cannot be equal to men, it’s against our nature.” and other deputies’ statements such as “Women should not laugh.”, “Pregnant women should not go out.”, “A working woman is preparing for prostitution.”, “A woman’s body is an ornament and thus precious and required to be protected.” make it clear that women in Turkey are not considered as free individuals by the government and the law-makers and they are systematically being oppressed and exposed to male violence. According to the We Will Stop Femicide Platform,
in the last two years 784 women have been murdered by men almost half of whom were current or former spouses or romantic partners. Increasing male violence and its clearly being supported by the government has led to many protests on the street and women protestors have always been attacked and blocked by the Turkish police even on International Women’s Day (8 March) and International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November). 

At first glance, considering government’s misogynist statements and actions, it is really hard to believe that Turkey was the first country to ratify a 2011 Council of Europe accord, commonly known as Istanbul convention, on preventing and combating violence against women. However, the story behind the convention confirms Erdoğan’s government’s hypocrisy. Nahide Opuz, was one of the women who was brutalized by her husband and complained about his violence to the police for 36 times before he shot her mother dead in 2002. That was when Nahide Opuz took the case to the European Court of Human Rights and filed a suit against Turkey for not providing any protection for women against domestic violence. Her husband had been sentenced to 15 years but was released in 2008 for his good conduct abatement. After his release, he went on threatening Nahide and she informed ECHR about that. In June 2009, Turkey was convicted of failing to protect its citizen from domestic violence and that was when ECHR recognised gender-based violence as a form of discrimination. In order to clear its name, in 2011, Turkey became the first country to sign the Istanbul convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domesic violence. However, it was just a sham to clear Turkey’s name and for women nothing changed. People, especially women were not informed about the details of the Istanbul convention and even most of the lawyers had no idea about the women’s rights. 

With the dramatically rising femicides and male violence, feminist organizations ran a lot of campaigns to bring up Istanbul Convention again and called government for taking an action. Thousands of women marched every time a woman was killed. However, since the security and the prosperity of the oppressor depends on the control of the oppressed, even basic rights and protections have come under threat as Erdoğan and his party has been trying to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. It has become a target of far-right political leaders and their supporters who
regard the convention as a threat to the country’s traditions and values. Many Turkish commentators and public figures who support socially conservative laws oppose the Istanbul Convention, arguing that it encourages divorce and immorality and is made to destroy families. LGBTQI+ community has also been targeted since the convention mentions about gender equality. AKP deputy chair Numan Kurtulmuş said in an interview that the Istanbul Convention was “very wrong” and “played into the hands of LGBT and marginal elements” in Turkish society.

While Erdoğan and other far-right political leaders and their supporters keep targetting feminist organizations as terrorists, women show their persistance by not giving up on the Istanbul Convention which was written by women’s blood. Therefore, women in Turkey will keep resisting until the government implements its obligations under the convention. Social media campaigns like #ChallengeAccepted is a very effective method to speak out against violence and injustice, but in Turkey, this might not be possible for Turkish activists for so long since Erdoğan is working to
tighten controls over social media. With a bill Turkih parliament advanced, government will be able to force companies such as Facebook and Twitter to remove posts it doesn’t like. Therefore, being in solidarity with women in Turkey and making their voices heard seem to be even more important now. 

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