BY DAILY SABAH WITH AA
ISTANBUL JAN 09, 2023 –
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (C), the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) chairperson, speaks at the “Marching to Great Türkiye with Women: Women in Science, Culture, Art, Sports and Politics Convention” in southern Antalya province, Türkiye, Dec. 7, 2022. (AA Photo)
The constitutional amendment proposal on headscarves and defining conjugal unions is set to guarantee women’s freedom to choose how they dress and further strengthen the institution of the family against the attacks of perverse trends, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared Saturday.
“This historic amendment will reveal who is on the side of democracy and freedom and who is on the side of fascism and restrictions,” Erdoğan told an assembly of men and women at the “Marching to Great Türkiye with Women: Women in Science, Culture, Art, Sports and Politics Convention” in the southern province of Antalya.
A group of women deputies belonging to the president’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) submitted the proposal to adjust the constitutional conditions a month ago on Dec. 9. The move was a direct response to the secularist Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) proposal in October to enshrine the right to wear headscarves with legislation in an attempt to attract support from conservative voters ahead of the 2023 elections.
The AK Party’s draft of the proposal was signed by 366 deputies in the 600-seat Parliament where the ruling party and its allies hold 334 seats.
Erdoğan on Saturday expressed hope that the bill would pass at Parliament with over 400 votes in its favor.
“We will determinedly continue our struggle until we have built our vision of a Türkiye that symbolizes the centurylong dreams of our people,” Erdoğan said.
He further underlined that his administration would “fight this struggle once again with women as we have in the past 20 years.”
A castle is conquered from within, Erdoğan said and declared the matter would “get done as soon as women get their hands on it.”
He praised women’s “contribution to the records we have broken and the level Türkiye has reached today” and said they would become “the architects of the Century of Türkiye.”
Erdoğan and his AK Party have long stressed that the headscarf issue is “the most important element” for the party’s presence, and their general approach to it could “never be political.”
Indeed, the headscarf was once a source of deep discord in Türkiye – its once-powerful secular establishment saw it as a threat to the temporal order. But the question ceased to stir controversy after reforms by the AK Party during its 20 years in power.
When the CHP revived the issue in late 2022, seeking an amendment for allowing headscarf-wearing women to work freely in the public sector, the AK Party took the matter directly to Parliament to settle the case with its constitutional amendment once and for all. Raising the stakes, Erdoğan said the amendment would also encompass measures to protect the family.
Turkish headscarf-wearing women have long struggled under laws that prevented them from wearing headscarves at schools as students and in public institutions as professionals, despite the prevalence of headscarf-wearing women in the country. The CHP had fueled anti-headscarf sentiment among the people and supported laws banning it.
The headscarf ban held an important place in public and political debates in Türkiye throughout the 1990s and 2000s. It was implemented widely in the 1980s but became stricter after 1997 when the military forced the conservative government to resign in an incident later dubbed the Feb. 28 “postmodern coup.” Erdoğan previously described the period as “days of oppression against women,” of which he was a victim as he was forced to remove his children from school.
Parliament lifted the ban on female students wearing the headscarf at university in 2008 in a move championed by Erdoğan and which the CHP lawmakers, including CHP Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, had sought unsuccessfully to block in the Constitutional Court.
In 2013, Türkiye lifted the ban on women wearing headscarves in state institutions under reforms the government said was designed to bolster democracy.
The recent developments on the matter also highlight the tug-of-war between the AK Party and the opposition as Türkiye heads rapidly closer to the elections. Most recently, Erdoğan said the public debate on the election date, which includes calls from the opposition to hold snap polls before April, would be on his presidency’s agenda and that they could consider moving the date up “slightly” to dodge the summer holiday.
As it stands, the opposition bloc, banded together under a six-party coalition led by the CHP, is yet to produce a presidential candidate to rival Erdoğan.