Big Changes for Turkish Women

The Turkish parliament lifted the ban on head scarves at universities.  The secular middle class and upper-middle class believe this represents the beginning of the end for state secularism and the start of a new era of Islamic rule which will result in the oppression of women.  Observant Muslims see this as a step forward, greater equality and opportunity for women who choose to cover their heads.  Either way, the head scarf ban is a longtime contentious issue for Turks, and this is a momentous decision.

As an American woman growing up in our environment of freedom of religion – where secularism means not favoring one religion over another – my inclination is that I’d rather have women getting a university education , whatever they choose to wear, than not having that option because of their commitment to a religious style of dress.  Of course, I understand the fears, that this is the first innocent-seeming step towards forcing all women to conform, and perhaps, one day, to taking away their right to an education at all.  It never seemed to me in Turkey that the headscarf was an oppressive, imposed choice on most of the women who currently wear it; after all, they are out there on the streets clamoring to be allowed to go to university, proudly wearing their scarves, buying them in all manner of colors and fashions, pairing them with Armani t-shirts and skin-tight (but long sleeve) tops – this isn’t a burqa, it’s almost an accessory as seen in Istanbul.  Perhaps it would feel different in a smaller city where the university would have been, up until now, almost an outpost of secularism in a more conservative region.



Filed under article, politics, randomness

2 responses to “Big Changes for Turkish Women

  1. Or even in more religious neighborhoods of Istanbul…

    There is historical and cultural context at play here. When the country was modernized, when the veil and headscarf and other public displays of religion were banned, when women and the poor were taught to read, all of this was a reaction to a society where religion held sway. Education was religious. Taxes were religious. Justice was religious.

    When the Greeks were expelled in 1922, they were defined by religion, not language or ethnicity, and Turkish Christians were expelled along with them (from Capadoccia),

    Even today, there is a large religious minority, the Alevi Muslims, and Alevi women do not traditionally wear headscarves, but in parts of Turkey now feel compelled to cover in public.

    The ban on headscarves did not prevent women from obtaining university education. It prevented one display of religiosity in classes; women who wore scarves took them off. In the 1990s, with a conservative drift in the region, Islamacists started challenging this. 100% political.

    Now, this law will not plunge Turkey back into an Ottoman confessional society, but it’s a step in the wrong direction.


  2. Hi Ms. F

    I did teach on a university campus in a smaller Anatolian city, and I can tell you my Turkish colleagues were very worried about this issue. Granted, most were in the Art Department, a liberal place, but I think this is bad news for Turkish universities urban and rural. It will physically divide students and set back women’s rights.

    I’m teaching ancient art history now in the US and am glad I don’t have a way to know which of my students are fundamentalist Christians who may think the world is 4000 years old and the Bible is literal truth. I need to be able to address religious imagery in an open critical way, and I think classroom discussion would be compromised if “headscarves” or their equivalent were in the mix.

    Have you heard from your friends back in Turkey on this?

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