Turkish gov’t lifts headscarf ban in secondary education institutions

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The government has lifted the legal ban on headscarves in secondary public education institutions, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç announced Sept. 22 following a Cabinet meeting amid heated debates on compulsory religious education.

“I know that particularly some of our female students have been yearning for it [the lift on the ban],” Arınç said. The step comes after the de facto removal of the headscarf ban in universities, in the aftermath of a long legal battle in 2008.

The Cabinet amended the regulation on students’ apparel, removing the legal provisions that stated students should “be bareheaded” during classes. “When I gathered with students during the start of the academic year, they were waiting for this good news with excitement,” said Arınç, recalling his visit to Bursa last week.

However, the new measure is likely to once more create controversy and debates, as unions warn that the decision means a political intervention on education.

“Our society is being dragged into the Middle Ages by exploiting faith. Now, it’s the kids’ turn to [become the instrument] of politics using religion. This decision will cause trauma in this country because it uses secular education” said Kamuran Karacan, head of the teachers’ union Eğitim-Sen.

For his part, Veli Demir, head of the union Eğitim-İş, said they will legally challenge the amendments. He also claimed the government intended to “even insert religious symbols into kindergartens.” “The change in the regulation is contrary to the Constitution. Freedom only means headscarves for them. They are not seeking secular and scientific principles in educational institutions,” Demir said.

However, not all of the unions were against the reform. Turkish Public Workers’ Labor Union (Kamu-Sen) President İsmail Koncuk argued the ban on headscarves should be lifted in order to avoid religion from becoming a political tool. “With the change of the regulation, secondary education institutions are no longer a space for the exploitation of religion,” Koncuk said.

Until now, only female students enrolled in vocational Islamic schools (imam-hatip) could wear headscarves in classrooms.

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