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Turkey schools flout hijab ban

Some universities in Turkey ignore ban on hijab, the Islamic headscarf, in public spaces.

The university ban is not officially specified in Turkey’s constitution or laws, which do, in fact, call for freedom of clothing. But through a tricky piece of legal interpretation coined “interpretative refusal,” the headscarf has always fallen into a gray area.

YOK’s directive, while applauded by those working to end the ban, falls short of solving the headscarf issue. Some see last month’s constitutional referendum, which is shaking up the traditionally secular constitutional court and expanding the process of judicial appointments, as another opportunity to officially end the headscarf ban. Others remain skeptical.

“YOK’s answer is progressive because it recognizes that the headscarf ban is not based on the law; that it is arbitrary,” said Fatma Benli, a Turkish lawyer and human right’s advocate who is defending Zeynep. “But of course it is not enough.”

Benli, who wears a headscarf herself, is more aware than most of the official and unofficial barriers the ban puts in the way of covered women’s academic and professional successes.

“[Because] I could not defend my master’s thesis in front of the jury I had to quit school. I became a lawyer and although I have my own office I still cannot attend my own trials, or use my rights in law as a normal person.”

Turkey’s public sector bans government workers from wearing headscarves, limiting the employment opportunities for women to private-sector companies, according to a study about to be released by Tesev.

“What I see is that removing the headscarf ban in university will, overtime, become a consensus, be it formally or more informally,” said Genc. “But in terms of public sector this is a much bigger war.”