- Published on Sunday, 29 July 2012 22:42
- Written by BC-Stuff
Ayşe K., 29, a headscarf-wearing woman who has been working at a private bank for five years because she is allowed to wear her headscarf there, said she had never dreamed of being a bank employee and would rather pursue a career in diplomacy as she graduated from a prestigious Turkish university where she studied politics and international relations.
Yet, the ban on the use of headscarves in public buildings prevented Ayşe and hundreds of thousands of headscarf-wearing women like her from even thinking of working in the public sector. "I have been working in a bank for five years. The university education I received has nothing to do with this job.
The problem actually began during high school because I was unable to choose certain universities or certain departments because wearing headscarves was not allowed at those universities or in those professions. I always ask myself this question: Are my qualifications poorer than the qualifications of a diplomat or a public employee? I have never been able to answer this question. I did not study finance or management, but I work for a bank." She also said she felt like she is depriving somebody who studied banking of a job since she herself cannot be doing the job she wants.
There is now an ongoing campaign on Twitter titled "Freedom to use a headscarf in the public sector," with thousands of people from different political views demanding the end to this years-long ban that has victimized hundreds of thousands of women.
According to Ahmet Faruk Ünsal, head of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER), the ban on the use of headscarves in the public sector has no legal basis and there is no need to pass any legislation to lift the ban, but determination to this effect will be sufficient. "Certain agreements Turkey signed concerning discrimination against women such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR] and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW] make this ban lose validity as the 90th article of Turkey's constitution says international conventions approved by the country take precedence over domestic laws. The ban in the public sector continues due to the lack of political determination to end it; the government should use its power to this effect," Ünsal told Sunday's Zaman.
A common argument brought forward by the supporters of the headscarf ban in the public sector suggests that if headscarf-wearing women are allowed to work in public, they cannot act impartially in certain jobs such as a judge or as a doctor and that they may discriminate against certain people with whom they do not share the same world view.
Ünsal said he has a counter-argument to this argument. "Then we may say, leaving one's hair exposed is also a symbol of a world view. It is very problematic to make a categorization that people like those wearing headscarves cannot be impartial, while those who leave their hair exposed are impartial from birth," he added. Until recently, the wearing of headscarves was banned even in universities. A coalition government led by a now-defunct conservative party was forced to step down by the military on Feb. 28, 1997. Not only were fatal blows dealt to fundamental rights and freedoms after the coup, but democracy and the rule of law were also suspended. The coup introduced a series of harsh restrictions on religious life, with an unofficial but widely practiced ban on the use of the Islamic headscarf.
The headscarf ban in universities was eased after the Higher Education Board (YÖK) sent a circular to universities in 2010 asking them to allow headscarf-wearing students. Yet, there are still some universities or professors who insist on implementing the ban. The unofficial ban on the use of headscarves is also in practice in Parliament as there is not even a single headscarf-wearing deputy in the legislature. Merve Kavakçı, a headscarf-wearing woman, was forced to leave Parliament amid the protests of other deputies and prevented from taking the parliamentary oath in 1999, although she was elected to Parliament by the public. No other such deputy has been elected to Parliament since the Kavakçı incident, and political parties, despite calls from the public, failed to nominate any headscarf-wearing candidates who could be elected in the latest general elections in 2011.
Journalist Ayşe Böhürler, who is also a founding member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and an advocate of headscarf freedom, said that at a time when the education of women is promoted so strongly, it is discrimination against women to bar them from working in the public sector. Böhürler said a minor change made to the article of the law that defines the dress code of civil servants would help eliminate the ban on the headscarf in the public sector.
"The expression 'hair should be exposed' in the relevant law should be removed. I don't think it is difficult to make this legal change. Since discrimination against women was addressed in a constitutional amendment and a constitutional amendment that promotes affirmative action for women was adopted in the 2010 referendum, this article on women working in the public sector should be abolished," she said. Regarding the claims of some circles that certain professions should be left out of the scope of headscarf freedom, Böhürler said she is against such a move because she believes freedoms lose their meaning when they are not taken altogether.