In response to the recent B&W social media challenge, our guest author, Carol Stewart, shares 10 easy ways you can help women around the world. Carol is a big supporter of Footsteps To Inspire and an amazing business woman, based in Cape Town, South Africa.
A few weeks ago our Facebook and Insta timelines began filling with the latest solidarity challenge – the black and white selfie #ChallengeAccepted in support of other women.
God knows women need the support of other women, even more so now as economically devastating lockdowns and social distancing the world over have amplified the occurrence of gender-based violence (GBV), left millions of women without a means to support themselves or their families, and have cut off vital interpersonal interactions where the distress of the one suffering abuse would have a better and safer way of being communicated. In addition, we are sucked into a surreal period of time where stress and fear of uncertainty have resulted in lack of tolerance, and the social acceptability norms have all but fallen away online as sniping, aggression and accusations have become commonplace, and reasonable, fact-based debate has become the latest addition to the endangered species list.
Leadership is largely absent. Patriarchy, misogyny, questionable morality, scandals and crises abound. Bad behaviours are simply denied, even in the face of clear evidence thereof.
We are feeling emotionally battered. We are desperate for positive voices.
Women flooding timelines with lovely images of themselves, and a message that we are there for one another, was a beautiful balm indeed.
I was surprised in the midst of this to come across an article about the real origins of the #ChallengeAccepted movement. Underpinning the lovely B&W images and the positivity of intention is a war cry swelling from the darkest, ugliest, most rotten smears of humanity’s fabric – the violence of abuse and death of women at the hands of men. This time in Turkey.
Turkish women have seen enough women murdered by men.
In the same way that the 2018 rape and murder of 19-year-old Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana, on the whim of 42-year-old postal worker, Luyanda Botha caused South African women to flood the streets and social media in furious unison, Turkey has reached her breaking point. 27-year-old Pınar Gültekin was strangled and her body buried under concrete by former partner, 32-year-old Cemal Metin Avcı. Yet another black and white image of a victim of violent femicide appearing on the front page of the newspaper. Turkish politicians are refusing to effectively implement the Istanbul Convention which pledges to protect victims of violence at the hands of men by preventing domestic violence and prosecuting accused offenders. Turkish women have had enough.
The #ChallengeAccepted movement is a call on women everywhere to raise awareness of the situation in Turkey through emulating the presence of B&W images of women in media, to essentially raise the question – am I next? This mirrors the question raised by South African women in the face of Uyinene’s murder.
As I reflect on this, I am bothered by the impotence of our social media activism, when we are clearly all frustrated and sharing in empathy for the thousands of women controlled and battered and slain by men again, and again, and again. That this particular cause lost impetus and meaning and was reduced to something far more feel-good, when it is clear that our hearts should be breaking, begs the question.
What is the sharing for, if it goes only as far as the click and the hashtag and the share? There is not an awareness issue here. There is an action one.
Understandably, we don’t know what we should be doing. It is so gargantuan a problem and so pervasive in society, that as individual women, we feel impotent to create any change. I would like to challenge this, by providing each of us with a simple addition we can apply to any of these posts that we choose to share in the future.
What is the best way to support Turkish women right now? The police are treating them as the criminals, as they raise their voices. If they are being silenced, our greatest weapon to assist them is to reject silence, in solidarity of ALL women. This starts in our lives. We can each be the pebble in the pond.
My challenge to you is to take five minutes and think about one action that you choose to commit to, to implement in your own life. And when you next type in that hashtag and share that post, add your committed action, challenging other women to do the same.
Here is a list of 10 commitments you can make.
These range from simpler, and more passive, to more active and involved. None are difficult or improbable to commit to, and none should put you in harm’s way. Here we go:
1. Pledge to remove the shame.
No one should feel ashamed to speak about having been victimised. Commit to advocating against abuse. This is not about focusing solely on the trauma and disempowerment, but celebrating the survivors and the stories of strength and support. Tell their stories openly and frequently. Show how they rise.
2. Commit to entering a women’s cause event
Share pics from the day on social media. This could be a running event, an online virtual event, a walk. A large organised event would most likely have sponsors and a fundraising avenue to provide a significant financial boost for that cause. NGO backed initiatives such as Footsteps To Inspire encourages participation at beach runs around the world, but also virtual global runs and Zoom challenges. Supporting causes such as Claire’s helps her to continue opening up important dialogue all around the world. Whatever the platform may be, the more women together, the greater and the more public the voice.
3. Make yourself available to women who need to talk.
Publicise your willingness to be there to listen, and to support in whichever way you are comfortable.
4. State it: I will believe you.
Abuse and manipulation go hand in hand. A person may not ‘look’ like an abuser. A marriage may seem good. The words may not be enough to adequately describe what is happening. Listen openly, without judgement and without question. Ask what you can do to help.
5. Commit to focusing on the behaviour, not the gender.
Imagine this. You get cut off in traffic. If it’s a man, you may say ‘what an idiot’. A woman – ‘what a stupid woman’. Why do we do that? Stop applying a woman’s gender in criticism, unless it is valid. We stereotype women as ‘bitchy’ or ‘pushy’ or a ‘ball breaker’ in business if they come across strongly. We don’t do that to men. Women who get angry are ‘hysterical’ or ‘emotional’. Trust me, I’ve come across just as many bitchy, petty, emotional men in business as I have women. Gender has nothing to do with it.
6. Commit to raising sons who respect women, and who are also taught that sensitivity and emotion are admirable traits.
We have to stop teaching children that certain feelings are for girls, and therefore a weakness, and that boys need to behave like ‘men’.
7. Pledge that you will no longer tolerate sexist, inappropriate or gender insensitive talk or behaviour – that goes for all genders.
Gender discrimination flourishes in silence. Call out your friends. Call out your family members. Call them out at work. There is no place for it, and society will become less tolerant when each of us won’t tolerate it.
8. Commit to stand up for women and girls.
If you see someone being treated unjustly, speak up. Make it clear that the behaviour is noticed, and will not be tolerated.
9. Donate to or volunteer at an organisation that supports women.
Be it a shelter or a skills centre or a soup kitchen. They are easy to find and likely situated more closely to you than you realise. You will gain more than you give, trust me.
10. Vote for the right leadership.
Listen to what politicians are saying. Listen not only to their words, but to their behaviour, and to whom they align. Listen to your gut. Back the ones that have the interest, the will and the plan to take up women’s causes.
Let’s start now. Is this a #ChallengeAccepted?
About the Author:
Carol Stewart is a market researcher and consultant based in Somerset West, Cape Town, South Africa. In addition to her partnership in Curiosity Matters research agency and a love for wildlife photography, Carol is an avid mental health advocate, using her writing and her voice to normalise conversations around anxiety and depression. Her first book on the subject, Not The Kind Of Person, is under construction, and focuses on the regular person’s mental health stories. You can find out more on www.notthekindofperson.blogspot.com and on her IG blog page @anxietysupportteam
Photo: Love Shouldn't Hurt by Sydney Sims on Unsplash