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  • Elizabeth Murray

What's with All the Black and White Photos?

Like anyone on Instagram, my feed and stories have been filled with black and white photos of friends and celebrities taking part in the #WomenSupportingWomen challenge. At face value, this seemed like one of the many trends going around Instagram to promote positivity. Critics have said this challenge is simply a way to post a flattering selfie and detract from the ongoing political, social, and health crises. But, what is this really?

On July 21st the body of Pinar Gültelkin, a 27-year-old Kurdish university student, was found after she had been murdered by her ex-boyfriend on July 16. This sparked outrage in Turkey, where women’s rights activists have taken to the streets and social media to protest the increasingly widespread domestic violence in their country. In 2019 474 women were murdered by either a relative or domestic partner in Turkey, the highest number in over a decade, and it is expected to continue rising as a result of the lockdown. Activists say the government has done very little to protect women from domestic violence, and that those who commit femicide (the murder of women because they are women) typically go unpunished. The current administration in Turkey has contemplated pulling out of the Istanbul Convention, a treaty that guarantees justice for domestic violence victims. The “black and white” challenge began as a way to raise awareness of the deteriorating women’s rights in Turkey, and to stand in solidarity with victims of domestic violence. The black and white filter is a reminder of the photos of femicide victims in newspapers.

In the US, this challenge is used for women empowerment, and took Instagram by storm with over 6 million posts. Other international users took the challenge as a way to encourage others to stay home during the pandemic. As news spread of the challenge’s origins, celebrities and influencers expressed their solidarity with Turkish women and encouraged others to do so as well. 

While the varying uses of the hashtag are all great and easy to get behind, it is important to acknowledge the challenge’s origins. It was estimated that in 2017 a third of female homicide victims worldwide were killed by a past or current partner. The World Health Organization considers violence against women a public health issue that affects a third of women globally. The black and white photo isn’t just a message of female empowerment but of the ongoing need for women to receive just as much justice and protection from their governments as men do.

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