Like many other women I have been tagged in the #challengeaccepted craze spreading through social media channels. Usually I dismiss these tagged challenges partly out of laziness but mostly because I find them a bit self indulgent and ridiculous. The female solidarity on display however, inevitably peaked my interest. I always like to understand the rationale behind these kind of things so I did a bit of research and what I found out was very interesting.
Before I go on here are some facts to digest: a total of 474 women were killed in Turkey in 2019, the highest rate in a decade, this number is set to increase with the figures for 2020, which will undoubtedly be affected by coronavirus lockdowns. Turkey is currently one country preparing to withdraw from the Istanbul Agreement, a treaty established to protect, prevent and combat violence against women.
Last week Poland’s justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro declared that Poland will be withdrawing from this treaty declaring the document as harmful because it requires schools to teach children about gender. President Andrzej Duda has recently been re-elected following a campaign in which he described the promotion of LGBT rights as an ‘idealogy more destructive than communism’. Many of the countries campaigners believe that the ultimate aim is to legalise domestic violence fundamentally breaching basic human rights.
In February this year the BBC reported that the number of female homicide victims in England and Wales has risen to the highest level since 2006. The UK is pro-active with the ratification of the Istanbul Agreement, however, several UK women fall vicim whilst their attackers are already under investigation from the police.
How and why is this related to a series of photographs and combined hashtags? There are several theories as to where this latest #challengeaccepted originated, and one explanation is that posting a black and white selfie is helping raise awareness of violence used against the women of Turkey. To show acknowledgment of the increasing acts of femicide and “honour killings”. Fidan Ataselim, the general secretary of the campaign group We WIll Stop Femicide has explained the reasoning behind the black and white photographs that are currently flooding instagram: ‘Everyday, after the death of one of our sisters, we share black and white photographs and keep their memory alive, The Istanbul convention keeps Turkish women alive. We call on women from all over the world to spread this message and stand side by side with us against inequality.’ I have seen several women post beautiful selfies and openly state that they do not understand the hashtag and whilst I do not mean to belittle and bemoan I thought that it might be useful to throw in a bit of context that others might find enlightening.
Let’s start with this little thing called the Istanbul convention, what exactly is it? The Council of Europe Istanbul Convention is a human rights treaty to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. It has been signed by all EU member states. Worryingly several EU countries have signed the convention without ever actually ratifying it (enforcing it) and more shockingly many countries have not signed it at all. What has sparked several protests recently are member states who have decided to question the convention and release themselves from the agreement.
If we break it down the Istanbul agreement is essentially the first legally binding instrument that establishes a set of legal rules to combat violence against women.
There are several other people suggesting that the sharing of these photos is simply to celebrate female empowerment generally. So whilst this show of female solidarity has spread fast and the message may or may not have been misunderstood, whatever the reason the results can be used for a positive. This action may have led you to learn more about other cultures and other countries. It may have led you to learn a little about the legal processes for victims of violence. It may have started a healthy debate, it may have triggered something in you to act on behalf of others. A lot of people will see a mass trending # and think it a little silly, think that the participants are a herd of sheep jumping on a bandwagon. The message may have been temporarily lost, but this feeling of empowerment and the outpouring of love to women that inspire us can easily be garnered to re-direct a message and remind us all of the terrible repercussions of domestic violence.
My final thoughts on this matter are this: If we do not have the proper legislation in place then we will fail to protect victims. Women will never achieve our right to true equality whist we allow a hierarchical blindsiding to such important issues. Protecting perpetrators over victims will continue to silence the oppressed and quite frankly in 2020 this is simply unacceptable. This is why learning about the Istanbul convention is essential.
I stand with the women of Turkey.