By Monica Sarkar, for CNN
It’s not unusual for men to join the fight for women’s rights. But it is if they choose to wear miniskirts while they do it.
The brutal murder of a Turkish woman, Ozgecan Aslan, 20, who allegedly fought off a sexual assault before her body was burned and dumped in a riverbed, has sparked protests on the street and social media.
The Twitter hashtag #OzgecanAslan prompted thousands of tweets, with many women posting photos of themselves clad in black. And in recent days, #ozgecanicinminietekgiy, translated as “wear a miniskirt for Ozgecan,” has begun circulating, often accompanied with a photo of a man wearing a short skirt.
And it apparently doesn’t matter where the apparel came from, as long as it is worn.
Some were not afraid to admit their reservations about the method of protest, but still voiced their full support for the message.
Prominent Turkish lawyer and activist Hulya Gulbahar said the skirt protest is “very effective” and the first time women’s rights have been so widely endorsed in Turkey.
“The women’s movement is trying to tell society, ‘My dress is not an excuse for your rape or sexual harassment.’ But society didn’t want to hear these voices.
“People try to find excuses for rapes and killings. But they didn’t find any in this case, because Aslan was very innocent, purely innocent. The protest shows that a short skirt is not an excuse for rape.”
Women’s rights in Turkey have been the subject of much debate in recent years.
In December last year, U.N. Women signed an agreement along with Turkish conglomerate Koc Holding’s CEO, Turgay Durak, to strengthen women’s economic and social empowerment in the country. And in 2011, Turkey was among 14 countries to ratify a European Treaty aiming to combat violence against women.
But official statistics strongly suggest the need for reform. In a joint statement last week, representatives from U.N. Women and UNFPA said: “Notwithstanding the progress in Turkish legislation and institutional structuring, recent data on violence against women shows insignificant improvement since 2008 and violence against women is still pervasive with two out of every five women in Turkey exposed to sexual and physical violence.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who condemned Aslan’s murder on Twitter, was criticized for claiming at an event last year that men and women are not equal.
“At least five women are killed a day,” says Gulbahar, citing a figure originally stated by Yasemin Yucel,the deputy chairwoman of the Tarsus branch of the Education Personnel Union.
Gulbahar argues that the government’s attitude is the first factor that needs to change, as it only views women as mothers.
“Our President and government are saying to society everyday that they do not believe in women and men’s equality; woman is [seen as] God’s gift to man, the man protects the woman.
“They try to make these ideas all of society’s ideas. But some women and men are resisting now.”
Some, though, have questioned the wider significance of the miniskirt protest.
“I don’t know how effective it is,” Istanbul-based journalist Andrew Finkel told CNN. “It’s obviously a clever protest, Turkish men showing their feminine side. Whether it’s going to move Turkish society, I don’t know.
“Reaction to the death has been massive. The miniskirt protest is not the main event in that protest — it’s not as if every man on Turkish streets is now wearing a miniskirt.
“Whereas the reaction to this woman’s death has been very substantial, and has made a lot of people think about their political attitudes.”
He adds that the murder has invoked a host of different reactions in Turkish people, proving both divisive and unifying.
“A society like Turkey is so polarized between supporters and opponents of the government — a snowdrop doesn’t fall without some political significance and dividing people into political clans.”
With 69% of men in paid work in Turkey compared to 29% of women, more women in the workplace is a good place to start establishing gender equality, says Finkel.
“Personal savings [in Turkey] are low because you don’t have more than one earner in the household. There’s a drive to get women into real jobs. If you get more women into employment, you have to change social rules which objectify and discriminate against women.”
Although there are deeper issues involved, the miniskirt protest has raised awareness and challenged views.
“The real problem is a series of attitudes that have now been ingrained in the courts and in patriarchal society. Some people have begun to reconsider those and I guess the skirt protest is just one way of calling on Turkish men to reconsider their attitudes,” says Finkel.
“[The miniskirt protest is] small but I think the symbolic meaning is very good,” says Gulbahar.