The prime minister wants to lift the head scarf ban. Why are feminists
Turkey: Hot on hijabs
Oct. 03, 2007 | Broadsheeters, it's time for a pop quiz: In
overhauling Turkey's constitution, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan
announced he would, in part, like to lift the country's ban on the
head scarf in universities. He said, "The right to higher education
cannot be restricted because of what a girl wears." The country's
feminists responded to the planned constitutional changes as (circle one):
a) An advancement for women's rights
b) Regressive and patronizing
Anyone who answered "b" goes to the head of the class; anyone who
answered "a," I'm sure you're a little confused. So was I.
Erdogan's move to lift the head scarf ban in universities seems
monumental when you consider that 60 percent of women in Turkey wear
the hijab. Just imagine how many women are discouraged, themselves or
by relatives, from getting a higher education simply because it would
require compromising their religious beliefs. No matter your feelings
about Muslim women covering up, lifting the ban, especially in light
of Erdogan's comment, appears a bold defense of women's rights.
Except Erdogan has other, lesser noted, changes planned for Turkey's
constitution, including removing a clause hard won by feminists. The
clause formerly affirmed equality for all; now it declares "women as a
vulnerable group needing protection," reports the BBC. More than 80
women's rights groups have spoken out against the change. "If the
government accepts this it will show their ideology and mindset about
women and men -- that women are a group that needs to be protected,"
said activist Selen Lermioglu. "We need equality and ask for that, not
The draft of the new constitution hasn't been released, of course, so
it's hard to judge just how patronizing the new clause is. It might
seem reasonable in reference to certain legal strictures that
primarily affect women, like the head scarf ban. As a replacement for
a general declaration of equality, though, it's troubling. The
activists warn that it might validate a husband's decision to force
his poor, defenseless wife to stay at home, where she would be
protected from the big bad world outside.
But the proposed end to the head scarf ban -- which, interestingly
enough, the women's rights activists haven't been able to come to a
conclusion on -- is an entirely separate issue from the revised
equality clause. I find the latter obviously troubling and the former
a slam-dunk for women's rights.
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