#womensupportingwomen: Story behind the hashtag that’s taking the world by storm, but can it help?

If you are posting a B/W picture of yourself then know that you are supporting other women against femicide

Representative Image
Representative Image

Smita Singh

If you are not living under the rock then in the last couple of days you might have seen social media platforms being flooded with black-and-white pictures of women. Politicians, celebrities, actors and just normal women all have been sharing B/W pictures of themselves on #womensupportingwomen or #challengeaccepted or on #womenempowerment. In short, the challenge is to post a black-and-white photo of yourself, and then ‘challenge’ other women who you want to uplift to do the same. I didn’t give it much thought thinking it was just another hashtag that’s trending like the #twittersaree some time ago. But no, there is a serious intention behind it.

The Turkish connection

Every morning people in Turkey have been waking up to see a black and white photo of a woman who has been murdered on their social media platform like Instagram or on their newspapers or on their TV screens. The black and white photo challenge was started in support of women as a way for them to raise their voice. It was a way to stand in solidarity with the women that were lost due to femicide. It was also to make women aware that it could be their picture that is plastered across news outlets with a black and white filter on top.

What brought the spotlight on the challenge again was a recent murder of a 27-year-old Turkish woman by her ex-boyfriend. Women were out on the streets waving purple flags and participating in vigils in many cities across Turkey chanting that they will hold the concerned persons accountable.

Turkey is one country where violence against women and ‘honour’ killings are deeply rooted and prevalent. Going by a 2009 study, 42% of Turkish women between the age group 15–60 had suffered some physical or sexual violence by their husbands or partners. By 2019, the numbers rose to 474 murdered women, mostly by partners and relatives. Now with the pandemic lockdown the figures for 2020 are expected to be even higher.

The outrage reached feverish pitch when the Turkish government indicated that it may be backing out of the landmark Istanbul Convention, a treaty that was ratified by the country in 2012 and was one of the first binding treaties in the world to combat and prevent cases of gender-based violence against women, as well as cases of marital rape and genital mutilation.

So, yes if you are posting a B/W picture of yourself then know that you are supporting other women against femicide.

Resurgence of the hashtag

Two days ago this hashtag suddenly started trending in the USA too, with Hollywood actors and celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon, Jessica Biel, Eva Longoria, Ivanka Trump, Cindy Crawford among others taking the lead. This is being attributed to the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's recent speech in the House of Representatives. In the speech she called out a male colleague who had called her a ‘fucking bitch’ and which apparently resulted in a spike in social-media posts about feminism and women’s empowerment.

While actor Susan Sarandon decided to do a different take of the challenge, she used it to raise awareness about African American Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead by Louisville Metro Department police officers in March this year.

In India

If something is trending worldwide than how can Indian women be far behind. Several Indian celebrities including Sonam Kapoor, Alia Bhat, Karisma Kapoor, Dia Mirza as well as a plethora of other Indian women shared their B/W shots. Actor Anushka Sharma, who was nominated by Katrina Kaif, Bani J, and Anaita Shroff Adajania among others, along with a picture wrote, “To all the women who have inspired me, I bow down to your grace and strength that has lifted me when I needed it and to the ones who tried to push me down, I know this world can be harsh & that you were struggling with yourself and I love you just the same.” She further tagged Shraddha Kapoor, Ameira Punvani Kanika Karvinkop and Tripti Dimri to take the challenge forward.

Hashtag mania, does it really help

Though the trend and the hashtag of ‘women supporting women’ may have been old, it's various reiterations over the years such as during the Black Lives Movement as well as in Turkey were all important in terms of growing representation of diverse women and the issues and violence they face.

Having said that don’t you think the social-justice message feels a little hollow when the main focus is on participants’ flawless faces, especially when it comes to celebrities?

Meanwhile, friends are tagging friends they are tagging their friends and them theirs, this can continue into infinity. Challenging friends (who don’t know the real reason behind the tag) to share their smiling, laughing, happy B/W pics actually means that the original aim of the hashtag will become obscured.

I am not against any challenge or trending hashtag, a woman standing for women is the way forward but I suggest you get to know the real reason for the hashtag first don’t just jump on the bandwagon just because it’s trending and cool to participate. It is important to understand the context of the trend – it’s for solidarity against gender-based violence and abuse of women. This is for a real issue, so just keep it serious, will you.

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