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.