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Do You Know What You’re Supporting With The Black And White Challenge On Social Media?

Posted: July 29, 2020

Women all over the world are posting their photos in the black and white challenge with hashtags like #challengeaccepted. What is this about?

All over social media, women have begun to post their own pictures – selfies, candid pictures, posed ones… but all of these are black and white. Every woman who posts one uses the hashtags #ChallengeAccepted and #WomenSupportingWomen.

And this has come to Indian social media just a few days ago, with women messaging / tagging their friends with the following text. I did.

“I was careful to choose who I think will meet the challenge, but above all who I know who shares this type of thinking, among women there are several criticisms; instead, we should take care of each other. We are beautiful the way we are. Post a photo in black and white alone, written ‘challenge accepted’ and mention my name. Identify 50 women to do the same, in private. I chose you because you are beautiful, strong and incredible. Let’s ❤️ each other!”

Isn’t this another of those ‘challenges’ people do for “fun”, “timepass”, “feeling better about yourself”, or to “fit in” with everyone doing it?

Well, NO. This is what it’s about

Turns out, it isn’t. It is an important challenge, if only the Chinese Whispers of its journey through social media didn’t lose sight of the real reason.

It all began in Turkey when there was a sudden spike in gender based violence, along with nearly 474 murders of women in a society that already had normalised it with honour killings and domestic violence not just at the hands of intimate partners / husbands, but also other male members of family/ society like fathers and brothers.

The article says, “What is now a light-hearted expression of female solidarity… was originally, in Turkey, a campaign inspired by both the soaring rates of violence against women and the brutal murder of a 27-year-old student named Pinar Gültekin. The murder appears to have been the last straw in a nation where women feel increasingly endangered. In 2019, 474 women were killed there—a 200% increase since 237 women were lost in 2013. It is also estimated that, so far in 2020 alone, 146 Turkish women have been murdered.”

Why the Black and White photographs?

A few days after the #WomenSupportingWomen #ChallengeAccepted #BlackandWhitephotographs began trending on all sorts of social media channels, a Turkish woman posted a tweet explaining why.

She also expressed her distress that the original reason for the challenge – protest and awareness against a spike against the femicides, in solidarity with the murdered women – was being lost in the way it propagated, with ordinary women and celebrity women posting their pictures in a rush of the enthusiasm of ‘performative activism’ as it has been termed.

The Turkish government has failed its women, so they needed to take this in their own hands to create awareness. Why?

In 2011, the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence was signed by a number of European countries. The Turkish government, however, is backing out of this now, as this Turkish-British instagrammer clearly says in her post about the challenge. She has also given some links where those who post their black and white picture can go, to actually make a difference to the plight of Turkish women.

Hashtags changed from Turkish to English

The hashtags we see in the challenge as we know came about after it travelled via social media to English speaking countries.

Tariro Mzezewa, a travel reporter with The New York Times explains this in detail.

“The original accompanying hashtags,” he says, “were #kadınaşiddetehayır
#istanbulsözleşmesiyaşatır which I’m told translate to say no to violence against women & enforce the Istanbul Treaty/ Doctrine (where rights to protect women are signed.)”

Of course, the English speaking world adapted the hashtags to what they could understand. Was the message lost while doing this? Maybe.

Origin in 2016 origin, in Brazil and US now

Another nugget of information I came across is that the black and white challenge is there since 2016 when it began as a Cancer Awareness campaign.

This New York Times article says, ‘This is not the first time Instagram users have leveraged black-and-white selfies in support of a vague cause. Back in 2016, black-and-white photos with the hashtag #ChallengeAccepted were meant to spread a message of “cancer awareness.” Over the years the photo trend has also been used to “spread positivity.”’

The author of this article has tweeted, “The challenge has circulated like chain mail ever since, ebbing and flowing as the “cause” associated with it shifts. It’s latest resurgence began a week and a half ago with a post by the Brazilian journalist Ana Paula Padrão.”

She also tweeted, “The challenge has spread in Brazil and India, but it really began to take hold in the past week after AOC’s viral speech abt the sexist comments she endured. IG users began to share more messages of female empowerment and the #ChallengeAccepted hashtag took off w/ the new meaning.”

This article says, “… it may be the result of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s electric speech on the House floor last week, in which she addressed being called a “fucking bitch” by a male colleague. Footage of the speech apparently created an engagement spike around feminism and women’s empowerment, and now we are here.”

We have all watched the now famous video of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, in which she gives a brilliant reply to the slut shaming, name calling, and sexism of a colleague, representative Yoho.

Revive the original black and white challenge

But the way the original challenge has been stripped of its meaning and reasons, isn’t sitting well with some women, especially women of colour who are distressed that this is becoming all about white women sharing airbrushed black and white photographs.

A Turkish-American instagrammer has put up this post, one of the many that tried to raise the original reason for the black and white challenge again in public memory, so that women participate in it more mindfully, using their agency to create awareness.

This post by an Istanbul based Turkish instagrammer speaking up against the femicide in Turkey says, “Your beautiful black & white photo is yes, meant to empower other women as your sister, but because so many men disregard & dispose us of our worth. I urge you to google Femicide and read the horrific accounts some women have faced. Violence against women anywhere is a tragedy! Share with purpose.”

This post also has comments by Indian women who reiterate that gender based violence is just as common in India in all its forms. A lot of women are just treating it as a fun challenge, but many, like Urmila Matondkar here, has said, “So glad that through this trend we all are acknowledging the need to support n strengthen each other. I’ve always maintained that the first step to #womenempowerment is women supporting n standing up for each other..so Bravo!”

We need to take back the power, use our voices, whatever big or small privilege we have, and effectively use the black and white challenge to raise our voices to create awareness about gender based violence.

Otherwise, as one tweet said without mincing words,

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In her role as the Senior Editor & Community Manager at Women's Web, Sandhya

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