The controversial ban on females wearing headscarves in Turkish universities may be coming to an end. A draft of the new constitution contains the following line: “No one can be debarred of his or her right to higher education because of his or her attire.” According to Prime Minister Erdogan, “wearing a headscarf could not be banned even if it is used as a political symbol.” The headscarf ban was introduced in the 1990s as a way to combat militant religious groups which were attempting to intimidate secular females from going without head coverings. Appeals in th 1990s to the European Coourt of Human Rights were rejected on the ground a government had a right to pass such laws in order to protect its citizens.
There was extensive debate among members of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party about ending the headscarf ban, but the decision was made to pursue the matter. Many secular groups in Turkey fear allowing headscarves will embolden religious groups to exert pressure on secular females to go along with wearing one in order to avoid nasty confrontations. Obviously, it will be up to universities to ensure the rights of secular students must be protected from religious harassment.
Another controversial statement in the constitution maintains the concept of compulsory religious classes in schools. Even some members of Erdogan’s party wanted this proviso out because it will create problems when Turkey submits its application to enter the European Union. Most probably the EU will insist on assurances the rights of non-Muslims are protected in schools. The draft constitution did slightly open possibilities for Kurdish to be used as a the language of instruction in some cases.
Overall, the new constitution addresses concerns of religious fundamentalists, but, hopefully, it also protects the rights of secular Turks and Kurds.