Headscarves allowed again at Turkish universities

ISTANBUL – Women wearing a headscarf on Monday regained the right to enter universities in Turkey. It had been forbidden for more than ten years after a decision by the Constitutional Court. The new situation is the result of a decision of the Board for Higher Education (YÖK), according to reports in several Turkish media outlets on Tuesday.

The YÖK has decided that teachers can no longer send women out of the class room for wearing a headscarf, and that teachers who do so will be investigated. With its decision the Board, which regulates academic life in Turkey, goes against a decision by Turkey’s highest court at the end of the previous century. That decision was an interpretation of a law,as there is no law that explicitly forbids women to enter university wearing a headscarf. Wearing a scarf at university would be against the policy of secularism. The governing AKP party, which has many supporters who are devout Muslims, tried in 2008 to lift the headscarf ban with a change to the constitution, but didn’t succeed.

The AKP did succeed in bringing YÖK, always a strict secular institution that tightly held on to the headscarf ban, more tightly under its control. Over the last couple of years more people from AKP ranks were appointed to the Board, and they now seem to be responsible for the major change of policy.

Whether the decision of YÖK will remain in force is not clear. At least it doesn’t seem to be a structural change of policy, since the decision of the highest court remains the same. A constitutional amendment is needed to make a lasting change, but none is expected before next summer’s general elections.

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