Hand over the mic to: Aras Kocaoğlan, Turkey

Social media advocate, everyday change-maker

Date: Monday, November 16, 2020

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For the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we are handing over the mic to women and men on the front line, those who are battling COVID-19 and the pandemic of violence against women and girls that’s relentless and rising. These are the voices of survivors, essential workers, and leaders, telling us what’s urgent, and how we can stop the escalating violence, recover and rebuild from COVID-19.

Aras Kocaoğlan. Photo courtesy of Aras Kocaoğlan.
Aras Kocaoğlan. Photo courtesy of Aras Kocaoğlan
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There is a frequently used Turkish proverb: “if you don’t beat your daughter, you beat your knee.”

If we keep telling women and girls through everyday expressions that they are not equal to men and boys, or that violence against them is justified, then it helps normalize that violence.

What can you do to help?

  • Think about the consequences of what you say
  • Care about how your words make others feel
  • Change your habits, change the society

Turkish Dictionary is an Instagram account that translates Turkish proverbs, idioms and expressions into English to show how sophisticated the Turkish language is and to also share them with the rest of the world. I believe that society shapes language and language shapes society. We try to identify sexist use of the language and offer alternatives. We make people question things that they haven’t before. Even if we can’t change their minds with a single post, we can make them think about it.

Together with UN Women, we focus on phrases and expressions that are gendered, sexist and discriminatory against women and girls. In our social media posts, we offer alternative expressions that help create a more gender-equal vision of the society. For instance, we use “businessperson” instead of “businessman”, or “humanity” instead of “mankind”. Our first collaboration post had at that time the highest interaction compared with any other posts. Whenever we collaborate, we check the comments, look at how people perceive these posts, and the discussions they start. We have also inspired private sector companies to create similar campaigns on social media.

Discrimination or inequality are not concepts that we are born with. We are not born with an inherent hate of a gender or race. We learn these prejudices and using language we pass them on using language. We need to change discriminatory language. That’s why, together with UN Women, we try to change discriminatory language so that we can make a change in our society and create an equal and fairer future free from violence.”

UN Women works to change social norms and prevent violence against women with programmes and campaigns on the ground

Aras Kocaoğlan is a marketing manager and the founder of the Instagram account, Turkish Dictionary, that reaches around 400,000 Turkish and international followers. Alongside UN Women, Kocaoğlan sparks conversations on social media about commonly used Turkish proverbs and expressions that discriminate against women and girls. During the COVID-19 lockdowns in May 2020, he started a campaign to raise awareness of Instagrammers about gender equality and COVID-19 and confront gendered language. The collaboration between UN Women and Turkish Dictionary reached around 2 million people on Instagram. Turkish Dictionary also disseminated content about the disproportional and unique impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls.