Iranian Instagram feeds have been overrun with black-and-white photos of women joining an international online campaign against gender-based violence, using the hashtags #WomenSupportWomen and #ChallengeAccepted.
The campaign follows an outcry against a number of high-profile “honor killings” in Iran over the last two months. The term is used for murder cases in which women are killed by relatives who claim to be preserving a family’s honor.
The Instagram campaign also has quickly gained traction in neighboring Turkey, where activists already had joined an existing campaign for women to support each other in raising awareness of gender-based violence — and the lack of consequences for perpetrators — in their country.
Protests were sparked this month by the murder of university graduate Pinar Gultekin, 27, who was beaten and strangled to death by a man who her family claims was stalking her. Other reports suggested he was Gultekin’s former partner. After killing her, he burned her body in a garbage bin and covered it with cement. He’s currently in custody.
As news of her killing spread, Turkish women began posting black-and-white photos online as a sign of solidarity with Gultekin and other victims.
“Turkish people wake up every day to see a black-and-white photo of a woman who has been murdered on their Instagram feed, on their newspapers, on their TV screens,” wrote one Instagram user.
Other women said they feared they could be next.
These protests struck a chord with women in neighboring Iran, still reeling from recent “honor killings.”
One victim, Romina Ashrafi, was only 14 when she was murdered by her father after deciding to elope with her boyfriend, who was 15 years older than her. After checking with a lawyer that he would not face execution — a typical punishment for committing murder in Iran — her father beheaded her with a sickle.
Under Iranian law, if the guardian of the victim forgives the murderer, he or she will not be executed. But as the legal system — which is based in sharia law — considers fathers and grandfathers to be guardians of their children and grandchildren, they will not be severely punished if they kill their own children.
Iranian legal experts have estimated that Ashrafi’s father will receive only between three to 10 years in jail.
The backlash to the recent femicides in Iran has pushed the government to accelerate the process of preparing a new bill for parliament to protect women against gender-based violence.
“The best measure to prevent such murders is to accelerate the implementation of the bill on preserving women’s security,” said Masoumeh Ebtekar, vice president of Iran for women and family affairs, to Khabar Online News Agency in June.
Yet according to a draft of the new bill published by Tasnim News Agency in September 2019, a murderer will be sentenced to five to 10 years imprisonment if they are a guardian of the victim. The minimum imprisonment will be only two years longer than the current punishment.
“Gender-based violence is too close to all women. It might be our last black-and-white photo that is posted by ourselves,” wrote Najmeh Vahedi, an Iranian women’s rights activist, on Instagram.
In Turkey, activists claim violence against women is rising. According to the latest statistics released by the Turkish campaign group We Will Stop Femicide, 21 women were killed by men in May this year, and 18 women were found dead in suspicious circumstances.
The group claims that statistics regarding violence against women in Turkey are unreliable and differ from one government department to another.
Iran is no different. The latest official comments on honor killings date back to 2014. According to Khabar Online News Agency, Col. Hadi Mostafaei, homicide deputy of Tehran Police Department at the time, said that 18.8% of murders in Iran were honor killings.
In both Turkey and Iran, women are fighting to win more legal rights to protect themselves against gender-based violence.
Turkey was the first country to adopt the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence in 2011. However, the ruling AKP is trying to roll back legislation, claiming that it endangers the institution of the family. A decision on whether to withdraw from the convention is expected on Aug. 5.
The move has drawn backlash from women’s activists, who claim that even existing legislation is far too lenient on perpetrators.
“The government and our justice system do nothing to stop these crimes. Most often the murderers barely get a slap on the wrist or no charges at all,” wrote one Turkish Instagram user.