Turkish Twitter defies ethnic, gender stereotypes by turning them upside down

Turkish Twitter users have come up with an unorthodox way to challenge gender and ethnic stereotypes.

On Saturday, many women in Turkey took to Twitter to share their accounts of discrimination, harassment and conservative gender roles by turning male-dominant stereotypes upside down in an outpouring similar to the MeToo movement.

On the same day, their action paved the way for Twitter uses in Turkey to speak out against racial discrimination against Kurds.

It has never been easy for Turkish women to publicly challenge gender roles imposed by men. But, thousands of Turkish female Twitter users on Saturday gave their male counterparts a taste of what they are subjected to on a daily basis under the hashtag #letmenknowtheirplace.

Some of the women tweeted: “A man should not laugh in public. He must be modest,”; “A man must keep himself for his future wife,”; and “I see men wearing tight mini shorts and perfume, and laughing in the streets. Then, they complain of sexual harassment.”

Hundreds of thousands of tweets also ridiculed male opinions denying the economic, cultural and political achievements of women, drawing attention to the challenges of harassment, inequality, and discrimination that women face across Turkey.

But the Women and Democracy Organisation (Kadem), an initiative whose vice president is the daughter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, criticised the campaign.

"Beginning as an empathy action, the current #letmenknowtheirplace has reached a level that will damage the values we believe. We condemn and reject this situation," Kadem tweeted.

However, women in Turkey have faced regular attacks by Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) over women's rights and a conservative society that has a very traditional mindset towards gender, according to some rights groups.

The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence has for years been criticised by Turkish Islamists, who say it empowers women and LGBTQ+ groups and is damaging the institution of the family.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan has been accused by women’s rights organisations of trivialising sexism, for example, by urging women to have “at least three children,” or by declaring that women are “incomplete” until they become mothers.

Inspired by the twitter campaign by women in Turkey, other users began to ridicule racial stereotypes against Kurds - Turkey's largest ethnic minority – under the hashtag #empathywithkurds.

After George Floyd's killing in the United States and demonstrations across the world against racism, the recent murder of a Kurdish man in Turkey’s capital city of Ankara prompted debate over racism in Turkey.

"Turkish-origin Kurdish citizens!" "There used to be no Turk or Kurd. We used to be all Kurds. These distinctions came later," "Citizen, speak Kurdish!" "Turkey belongs to Kurds," some tweeted, referring to longstanding problems over the recognition of Kurdish identity.

"One of our relatives is married to a Turk," and "I also have Turkish friends" were among the tweets ridiculing statements of Turks when they try to prove that they are not against Kurds.

Kurds are Turkey's country’s largest ethnic minority, representing around 20 percent of the population. They have for decades been denied basic rights including education in their mother tongue by governments that viewed expressions of Kurdish identity as a threat.