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23 Oct, 2022 15:00

Erdogan proposes headscarf referendum

Türkiye’s secular constitution prohibits certain Islamic dress in public institutions
Erdogan proposes headscarf referendum

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed a referendum on the right of women to wear headscarves in the civil service, schools and universities. Erdogan, who courts a devout Muslim base, has previously reversed some of Türkiye’s secular laws.

“If you have the courage, come, let’s put this issue to a referendum... let the nation make the decision,” the president said in parliament on Saturday, in remarks aimed at opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu. 

Kilicdaroglu had proposed a law guaranteeing women the right to wear a headscarf in public buildings, in a bid to reassure Muslim voters that his secular party would defend their religious rights, AFP reported. Erdogan’s call for a referendum is likely an effort to win the support of devout Muslims ahead of elections next year.

While Kilicdaroglu once supported a ban on headscarves, Erdogan has long positioned himself as a warrior against such secular policies. 

Türkiye has been a secular state since 1924, although Islamic headscarves were not officially banned in public institutions until the late 1990s. Although the country’s constitutional court struck down an attempt by Erdogan’s ruling AK party to lift the headscarf ban in 2008, the Turkish president managed to end the restriction in 2013.

While no political party in Türkiye is proposing a return of the ban, enshrining the right to wear a headscarf in the constitution would represent a significant step away from the secularism of previous decades.