The United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, in a judgment in 1927 stated that “Men feared witches and burnt women”. While problems of women’s rights, modernisation, human rights, and democracy are being discussed throughout the rest of the world in the 21st century, Turkey, for the last twelve years, has been preoccupied with whether women with headscarves have the right to enter higher education institutions. The talk is of progress and the contemporary world, but what is actually happening is that women who wear the headscarf are being excluded from society, and while the arguments about the headscarf/türban drag on, no serious steps are being taken about women’s existing and all too real problems.
This research report investigates the negative effect of the headscarf ban on the development of women’s rights and sketches a map of general problems for women in Turkey using statistical data. Thus, the problems faced by women in the fields of education, employment, political representation, domestic violence, rural areas, health, social security, and social life are outlined using statistical data. Also presented is research about the effect of the headscarf ban on headscarfed women, who make up 62% of the female population in Turkey. The difficulty of collecting statistical data about discriminative treatment of headscarfed women in public, and the ratio of women who are affected by the ban is also discussed. The juridical character of the headscarf ban is evaluated in light of international law norms, especially United Nations (UN) documents. The protections offered by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) are compared with UN treaties, examining the different areas of protection extended by the ECHR and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as well as an investigation into the effects of the Leyla Şahin decision.
Furthermore the report deals with the various arguments which are offered to legitimise the ban, and will investigate the validity of these arguments. These arguments include: providing freedom of dress will have the effect of limiting rights and have an adverse effect on women who do not wear the headscarf; lifting the ban would bring regime change to Turkey; all citizens must obey the rules of the state; türban (the tightly fitting scarf) is different from the ordinary headscarf; the headscarf should be banned because it is a political symbol; the laicism principle legitimises different treatment; headscarfed persons must be excluded from the public sphere; and the headscarf is banned by a court decision.
The conclusion and evaluation sections set out ideas for the solution of women’s problems in Turkey. The concrete and specific data in this study is provided by statistics and research reports prepared by the Turkish State General Directorate on the Status of Women (KSGM), and by various non-governmental organisations and universities.