TRIGGER WARNING: This article includes details of sexual abuse, rape, and murder.
A few weeks ago, my Instagram feed was flooded by posts with a #ChallengeAccepted caption. Women, such as those posted below, posting black and white images of themselves under the guise of empowering women; Celebrities, from Jessica Biel to Kerry Washington, posted these selfies, unaware as to what they were really taking part in. As hundreds of these selfies circulated the internet, it became apparent that the campaign behind these images was something much deeper than how ‘beautiful’ we are.
Reports began to circulate that the #ChallengeAccepted trend originated in Turkey. The premise of the hashtag was that women were tired of seeing black and white photos of murdered women and were raising awareness of the ongoing Femicide in Turkey. I took part; citing female atrocities across the world that needed attention more than my selfie. As the story grew, some claimed the posts began elsewhere, however, the hashtag’s origin doesn’t change the fact that women in Turkey are dying at the hands of men, and it has finally been brought to the attention of many. So, what is happening and what can we do to help?
Femicide in Turkey
Sule, (story below), was one of 3,185 women killed at the hands of men in Turkey between 2008 and 2019. According to Bianet, a Turkish press agency, 32 women were killed by men in July of 2020 alone, with 59% of these murders occurring in the victims’ home. Women are being slaughtered as though their lives are meaningless. This is inexcusable and deeply rooted in the country’s political and social system.
Gender Equality in Turkey
Turkey has, surprisingly, shown great advancement in gender neutral politics and sex discrimination, particularly during the early years of the Republic, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. When the Republic was declared in 1922, gender equality was embraced by President Atatürk who brought in modern reforms; including civic independence from the Caliphate, financial aid and providing full political rights to women in 1930. It is useful to bear in mind that full suffrage was given to the UK in 1928 and Turkey’s neighbours, Syria and Iran, didn’t receive universal suffrage until 1953 and 1962. Atatürk also promoted a secular society with no dominant religion to create an inclusive and progressive society. However, under today’s government, women face an unequal and dangerous reality with honour killings still being prevalent and one third of marriages being child marriages.
Pinar Gultekin was a 27-year-old student when she was murdered in Menteşe; a municipality of Muğla Province. Her life became a headline and showed the world a society corrupted by patriarchal extremism. On the same day that Pinar was murdered, Avci purchased a bottle of gasoline from a petrol station. Her body was found in a bin, set on fire and then covered in cement. A vindictive, calculated, cruel and brutal end for a woman who said, ‘no’.
Pinar’s suspected killer, Cemal Metin Avci, stated that he dated Pinar before he was married to another woman and had two children. He claimed that he went to Pinar’s home to rekindle their romance and that, when she refused him, he lost control, beat her, strangled, and killed her. Pinar’s family, however, tell another side to the crime. They testify that Avci was an obsessed stalker who messaged Pinar obsessively, and that her death came days after she blocked Avci on social media.
Even with her family’s assertions, the media still refers to Avci as Pinar’s ‘ex-boyfriend’ or ‘former partner’. Even in death, she is not believed, and a jealous man is more palatable than a deranged one. In some articles, she’s been referred to as ‘his lover,’ rather than her name or her title as ‘his victim.’
Abuse upon rejection is not new for women. We’ve all received hateful messages online, or had men approach us in public, unprovoked, not taking no for an answer. We get sworn at, threatened and even stalked because we say ‘no’. In Pinar’s case, however, she lost her life.
Victim shaming is unfortunately common for women who are harassed, abused and attacked by men online and in person. This shaming has created a culture of isolation in public and domestic abuse situations, resulting in women being afraid to come forward.
“Why didn’t she break it off?”
“Why didn’t she just say no?”
Şule Cet was 23 and a university student when she was raped and strangled to death in a high-rise apartment in Ankara in 2018. Şule was found on the concrete outside the apartment block having ‘fallen’ 20 storeys to her death in Turkey’s capital city. Two men were put on trial and convicted for the death of Şule, and the trial gripped the nation. The men claimed that Şule had jumped out of their 20th storey window after shouting that she didn’t want to live anymore.
Before arriving at the men’s flat, Şule was pictured happy and smiling in Instagram photos. While we all know that suicidal tendencies can be hidden by those suffering, particularly on social media, Şule’s friends and family felt this was entirely out of character. Moments before she died, Şule texted a friend saying “I can’t get out of here. The man is obsessed with me. He won’t let me go.” It doesn’t sit right – does it?
Şule’s case caused an uproar in Turkey for many reasons. The Police decided that Şule had committed suicide and, from that moment, bungled the investigation. But it was the defence’s attempt to shame Şule, in an all too familiar routine, that angered the country the most. The defence highlighted Şule’s consumption of alcohol the night she was murdered and that she wasn’t a virgin, to discredit her character. One of the accused, Cagatay Aksu, (who received a life sentence), even said to Şule’s Father “If only you’d looked after your daughter.” During the trial, a forensic expert, Dr Mehmet Muri Aydin issued a report on the crime. In it he said “If a woman agreed to have a drink with a man in solitude, it means she consented to sexual intercourse.” We will never get the chance to get to know Şule, but I’m pretty confident she didn’t consent to being raped, having her neck broken, and being thrown out of a window. Dr Aydin, as a result, was dismissed by the Medical Chamber for six months. Angry yet? Good. You should be.
What the Hell is Going On?
The Istanbul Convention (a European Council treaty dedicated to combating violence against women and domestic violence against everyone) was brought into force across Europe in 2011 and was celebrated as a victory for women. Yet in those passing years, the number of women killed at the hands of men has increased in Turkey. What changed Politics, as always. The current leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has perpetuated the myth that the Convention is the enemy of family values, encourages homosexuality and is allowing women to desert their homes and families.
Why Does This Power Play Affect Women?
Erdogan has made his intention to return Turkey to a Muslim power-house clear and, thus, prescribe Turkey to Sunni Islam (the exact branch of Islam that the Republic broke away from). There are reports that women have been heavily oppressed under Sunni Islam. Leila Ahmed, author of ‘Women and Gender in Islam’ argues that the Quran’s teachings were far more equitable that the centuries of Islamic law that followed and that religious restrictions to oppress women, therefore, aren’t justifiable.
Looking at Article 42 of the Istanbul Convention, no criminal act under the scope of the treaty can be justified by culture, custom, religion or tradition – this includes honour killings. By withdrawing from the convention, Erdogan opens the doors to countries that oppress women under these categories; such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. I think the world has had enough of seeing human rights abuse being played out under the guise of religion. The West should know, we started it (Crusades anyone?).
Poland’s right-wing leaders (PiS) have also announced a withdrawal from the Convention, and protests are happening across Turkey and Poland. What is happening in these countries could easily happen to any nation under the wrong leadership. By showing, globally, that a nation doesn’t care about the lives of its women, it consents to their murder. But that consent is heard. You hear it. I hear it. We can testify to it.
How You can Help
If you want to stand with the 14 million, with Pinar and Şule, with Rabia Naz Vatan, Ayson Yildirim, Ayson Yildirim, Ceren Ozdemir, Ozgecan Aslan and the other victims of the Turkish Femicide – then you can sign a petition here.
Visit We Will Stop Femicide – they have groups across the globe, and have more details of how to help. Read the Convention. Speak the names of the women who have been killed and, please, it you don’t do any of the above, make sure you vote.
And next time you see a hashtag you don’t recognise or a challenge on social media – question it fully. Let’s ensure the platforms are used for good, to spread the word of protest, dissent and to share our knowledge. We are the users. We create the content.