What is the Black and White Photo Challenge Really About?

TRIGGER WARNING: The article contains mentions of violence, harassment, and abuse that may be triggering to some readers.

If you’re active on Instagram you may have noticed that your female friends, relatives, and coworkers may be posting a black and white photo of themselves with the hashtag #ChallengeAccepted. Initially, it was recognized as an amorphous symbol of women empowerment shared through inviting other women in your direct messages to participate in the “trend”.

However, recent informational posts have shed light on the origins of the black and white photo challenge. In 2016, it was used for cancer awareness and since then has become a common method of gaining critical mass for various social issues. In 2020, this method was used to shed light on gender-based violence in Turkey but was quickly undermined by many online users.

The Pandemic of Oppression

Many censuses and news articles reflect the astronomically high rates of violence against women in the state. On top of the daily occurrences of sexual violence and forced marriage, actual Turkish law has been said to protect the perpetrators of these crimes (as seen in the “marry your rapist” bill).

The reasons behind such legislation may be more insidious than you think. Turkey has been trying to grow its population for the longest time, and many hypothesize that it’s because they want to limit their spending on social welfare which is inherent to their criminal justice and jailing system. In their eyes, the perpetrators — when positioned in a family as opposed to a prison — will no longer become someone the state has to spend for and hold accountable, but rather will be converted to become a man capable of nurturing and supporting a wife and children.

In Light of COVID-19

With economic pitfalls and mandatory lockdowns, the rates of violence against women have risen. For reference, 40 women have been confirmed to be murdered in July 2020 — mostly by a male relative.

The main trigger for the black and white photo movement was the brutal death of Pinar Gultekin. After disappearing on July 16, her body was found in an oil drum strangled and burned. While her killer was taken into custody, Turkish nationals saw this as a mere drop in the sea of perpetrators who were left off the hook by their own government. As such, the hashtags #kadınaşiddetehayır (#saynotoviolenceagainstwomen) and #istanbulsözleşmesiyaşatır (#enforcetheistanbulconvention) were created.

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This is Pınar Gültekin.⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ She was reported missing in Turkey's Aegean province of Muğla on July 16th and found dead after being brutally murdered five days later. A man has been detained in relation to her killing. Pinar was a 27 year old Kurdish woman. ⁠⠀ Turkey has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world. People in Turkey regularly see black and white images of women on their news screen who have been violently murdered.⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ The black and white challenge circulating right now?⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ It is at least partly from/in response to Pinar's death as a way for Turkish women to raise their voices against these atrocities, stand in solidarity with those lost and draw attention to this issue.⁠ ⁠⠀ This is more – way more – than just an opportunity to post a nice black and white photo of yourself and encourage other women to do the same. It's about more – way more – than just women supporting women. ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ I will share to my stories more information and encourage you please to amplify the voices of the people (not me – them) who are trying to remain focused here on the very real reason for this challenge. And vital to note too that as more and more information comes to light here that the exact origins of challenges like this can be very hard to find. Activism that uses social media in this way is not simple. Many other issues have encouraged things like the posting of black and white photos for varying issues for years. What is known however from my research is that THIS iteration of it has at least parts of its most recent emergence in this way. And has been essentially rubbed out. If anything about this that I share here is proven wrong or out of date or context then I will be accountable for that and change it. ⁠⠀ And may all of us once again (just like blacked out squares here on IG right?) take a collective breath for a moment and unpack why it is that an issue like this that has its origins in violence against women of colour has been taken over so uncritically, with such speed and very 'conveniently' dropping the original context as to why it started…⁠ #istanbulconventionsaveslives #istanbulsözleşmesiyaşatır #kadınaşiddetehayır

A post shared by Julie Parker (@julesyparker) on

Checking Our Privilege

Turkish cultural groups and activists are starting to shed light on the roots of the black and white photo challenge, and it is only correct that we hear their stories. If we were to take a step back and observe who’s participating in the hashtag (including ourselves), we ought to notice the privilege most of us have to be able to do such a simple act of female empowerment online without having to fear for our lives.

Perhaps the real challenge is to see beyond our initial definition of feminism. Today, we must use our privilege and the platform that comes with it to fight for the women who cannot do it on their own. Though it is perfectly fine to post a picture of yourself in the name of empowerment, it should never end up burying the bigger issues that others face.

Let’s make it a point to do our research and use our voice.

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