Let it be more than a Viral Hashtag
That’s one of the ways we can redress the balance: smash patriarchy and bring about equality for all.
I was careful to choose who I think will meet the challenge, but above all I know who shares this type of thinking, among women there are several criticisms; instead, we should take care of each other. Post a photo in black and white alone, tag #ChallengeAccepted and mention my name." This message has been sliding into my social media inboxes for the last few weeks.
It has been sent by women I love and respect, with good intent. Patriarchy rules the roost, and one of its greatest tools is internalised misogyny, so as women, we must do all we can to support each other. That’s one of the ways we can redress the balance: smash patriarchy and bring about equality for all.
I’ve not responded to any of the messages so far, because this one deserves some thought. Hashtag challenges seem to me like the chain emails of yore: a clickbaity, apparently positive message to be passed on. For the black-and-white challenge, I see stunning images of actresses, models, bloggers, everyday professionals on social media, but how does it support women other than making some of us feel good about having spent a few minutes choosing a great photo of ourselves? Some of the most effective responses to this hashtag seem to have come in from Turkey and Iran, where women are using it to raise awareness of gender violence.
In Turkey, a university graduate was beaten and strangled to death by a man, who then burned her body in a garbage bin and covered it with cement. Punishments for similar crimes against women are minimal, and by posting black-and-white photos, Turkish women registered their protest, and expressed their fear that they could be next.
This challenge also became part of protests against ‘honour killings’ in Iran where a woman seen to have tarnished her family’s honour is often murdered, with zero consequences. Millions of black-and-white photos have now been posted. Indian women are slowly taking it up, as evidenced by the stream of photos in my inbox and on my timeline.
India is supposedly making great strides towards development, but is still considered one of the most unsafe countries for women. End of last year, a woman in Hyderabad was stalked and gang-raped, and instead of the due process of law which would have uncovered system-wide corruption, the four accused were shot dead by police. A week later, a woman seeking justice for her gang-rape was set on fire while on her way to court in Unnao.
With Covid lockdowns in place, domestic violence has spiked because of families being cooped up in homes and smothered in fear of losing their livelihoods. There have been celebrity campaign ads like #LockdownMeinLockup to help remove the stigma from domestic violence so that women facing violence report it, and perpetrators realise that there will be consequences. In view of all of this, is there a way to turn the so-far mostly cosmetic black-and-white hashtag challenge into something more effective?
How about instead of simply saying to other women that they’re beautiful, strong and incredible (great, but not enough), we also stand in solidarity: #SayNoToViolence ? How do we include men in this campaign, so that they address the perpetrators along with us? Is it possible to extend our support to those women not on social media, who cannot escape from some of the worst domestic or caste-based violence because of economic challenges?
Is it possible to use the black-and-white challenge to tag and raise awareness of individuals, organisations and non-profits who help and empower at-risk women? Can we take up the challenge to volunteer or fundraise for an agenda-free endeavour that works to promote positive influences, and reduce violence?
In the end, like all challenges, this one will be what we make of it. A black-and-white photo can be a powerful reminder of needless loss and suffering due to unchecked violence in our society. Perhaps we can all challenge ourselves to make an impact by not just posting pictures in solidarity, but also standing up to make ourselves count where it matters, so #ChallengeAccepted becomes more than a passing viral hashtag.
(The writer is an uthor and activist can be contacted at Twitter: @damyantig)