Turkish parties agree on scarf freedom in public service

Currently, state offices do not hire women who wear a headscarf, covered women are also denied employment in most private companies

Turkish parties agree on scarf freedom in public service

World Bulletin/News Desk

The four political parties in Turkish Parliament have reached a compromise to add an article in the new constitution that will allow women to wear headscarves in positions of public service.

The parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission convened on Thursday to carry on its efforts to draft a new, civilian constitution.

Discussing an article on freedom of religion, conscience and belief, members of the commission agreed to add the clauses that read, “No one can be forced to participate in religious practices or ceremonies or express their religious beliefs or thoughts. No one can be prohibited from or denounced for fulfilling the requirements of their religious beliefs.”

Turkey's ban on headscarves dates back to the 1980s. After the 1980 coup d'état, a regulation clearly defined the permissible clothing and appearance of staff working in state offices, including the stipulation that the hair of civil servants must be uncovered.

Women who wear a headscarf were then denied the right to be employed by the state.

The ban was significantly tightened after Feb. 28, 1997, when the military ousted a government it deemed too religious.

Currently, state offices do not hire women who wear a headscarf.

Covered women are also denied employment in most private companies despite the lack of a law that prohibits the use of the headscarf in private businesses.

Nor are they elected to Parliament. A ban on headscarves imposed for many years on university campuses was only removed in 2010.

In the past months, the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission failed to reach an agreement on the article on freedom of religion, conscience and belief after the Republican People's Party (CHP) insisted that the clause “No one can be prohibited from or denounced for fulfilling the requirements of their religious beliefs” not be added to the new constitution.

The commission has three members from each of the four political parties represented in Parliament. However, members of the commission have stark differences over many topics, which has made it hard to complete the new document.

However, on Thursday, CHP deputy Rıza Türmen agreed with the members of the three other political parties in the commission to add the said clause to the new constitution so that the ban on the use of the headscarf in positions of public service is lifted.

Türmen told the commission that people cannot be discriminated against for fulfilling the requirements of their religious beliefs. “The amendment [clause to be added to the new constitution] complies with universal standards as well as European Court of Human Right complies with universal standards as well as [earlier] decisions of the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR],” he reportedly told other members of the commission.

AK Party deputy Ahmet İyimaya, who is in the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, told Today's Zaman that the commission could have agreed on the principle that no one shall be prohibited from fulfilling the requirements of their religious beliefs much earlier. “The agreement came a bit late, but it came finally,” he stated.

According to İyimaya, the compromise among the four political parties on the article to bring freedom to the use of headscarf in positions of public service has boosted hopes that the commission will be able to draft a brand new constitution.

“I have always said a new constitution can be drafted if political parties clearly display their wills to this end. If we maintain our decisiveness [for further compromise], I believe that a new constitution will be drafted to replace the existing one,” he stated.

The existing Constitution was drafted following martial law in 1982 after a bloody coup d'état two years earlier in 1980. The document is often the focus of harsh criticism as it fails to provide for broader rights and freedoms.

However, the commission has failed to produce a draft so far. The commission was scheduled to conclude its task by Dec. 31, 2012, but has failed to keep up with the schedule. It was then granted three extra months. That deadline expired on March 31. After the commission failed to conclude its work by the extended deadline, it was again given an extra month. The deadline expired on April 30. It was given a third extension recently, which is due to end by the end of June.

MHP deputy Faruk Bal, who is also a member of the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, said it would be wrong to associate the commission's agreement on the article on freedom of religion, conscience and belief with headscarf freedom as the commission's members did not mention the word “headscarf” during its discussions.

According to CHP deputy and constitutional commission member Atilla Kart, the four parties' agreement on the article of freedom of religion, conscience and belief follows an agreement on another article that stipulates on the equality of all citizens of Turkey. “

Last Mod: 11 Mayıs 2013, 11:05
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