Turkish Women Use Twitter to Fight Sexual Harassment

THE NEW YORK TIMES: LEDE BLOG

By Ceylan Yeginsu

Thousands of Turkish women have taken part in a Twitter campaign to voice outrage at men who invade their space by spreading their legs while sitting next to them on buses and trains.

“Stop spreading your legs. Don’t occupy my space,” reads the campaign slogan, which was started by the Istanbul Feminist Collective and reverberated on the social network as women shared their experiences that related to the violation of personal space on public transit.

So many messages with the Turkish tags #bacaklarinitopla, “Stop Spreading Your Legs,” or #yerimisgaletme, “Don’t Occupy My Space,” appeared on Twitter that the campaign made it onto the network’s global list of trending topics.

Many of the tweets posted called for an end to harassment and included photographs to support their claims of widespread inappropriate behavior.

Hulya Unaldi, a nurse traveling on one of Istanbul’s public buses on Friday, told The Lede: “Any woman who steps foot on public transport is at risk of sexual harassment. If you stand up you could get groped and if you sit you are subjected to a male’s leg pushing up against you.”

“Everyone knows this problem exists, but no one has had the courage to speak up about it publicly,” she added.

The feminist collective behind the campaign is encouraging women to print out the slogans and wear them as stickers while on board public transit.

“When a woman is put in this situation, it is intimidating to warn the man because she doesn’t know what kind of reaction she will receive,” Tugce Sarigul, a member of the collective, told the website Bianet.

In 2012, the Islamist-rooted Saadet Party began a campaign to establish a network of pink metro buses that would cater solely to women, but the Istanbul municipality never realized the project. In response to the recent campaign, many men have tweeted in favor of segregated transportation for women, which led to a Twitter backlash.

“We don’t want a pink metro bus. Learn how to sit,” one woman tweeted back.

The campaign has received some support from men, although the majority of tweets have been from women. “It’s only natural that men need more legroom, and I’m sure not everyone spreads their legs to harass women,” Erdem Topcu said as he disembarked from an Istanbul bus. “I do respect the campaign, though. We should be more aware.”