Earlier this week, a teacher wearing a headscarf in a school in Ayvalık was chastised in the media. The woman, Elif Kısa, was wearing a long black dress and a black headscarf, which made it appear as if she was wearing a chador. Photographs of the teacher in the schoolyard were published by several newspapers on Thursday.
Head of the local education directorate Erkan Bilen said: “For us, it is not what a teacher wears but how much they contribute to their students.”
However, Nahil Filiz, head of the Ayvalık branch of the teachers’ union Eğitim-İş, said the teacher was committing a crime. “They are calling this [headscarf] freedom, but those freedoms come back to other teachers later as pressure.”
Filiz is partially right. There is currently a regulation in place regarding the dress code for public servants — including public school teachers — which states that female public servants should have their hair uncovered. However, there is Public Monitoring Institution (KDK) decision — which comes from a case about a lawyer who wanted to wear her headscarf in a courtroom — which found that not allowing women working in the public sector to wear the headscarf is unconstitutional. Yet, the regulation can be and is often used against pious women.
President of the Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) Ahmet Faruk Ünsal said the regulation regarding the dress code for public servants should be removed immediately. “All restrictive provisions regarding all fundamental freedoms should be removed. There are no laws against the headscarf in Turkey, there is the dress code regulation governing the public sector, and that regulation is in violation of the Constitution. What needs to be done is just get rid of the regulation,” Ünsal said.
But even if the regulation is removed, whether public institutions will implement the decision of the Ombudsman’s Office regarding the removal of the ban on the headscarf is a highly debated issue.
Fatma Benli, the Turkish representative of the Union of International Jurists, said Turkey can no longer continue to rate people on the basis of whether they cover their hair or not. “It is unacceptable to label people based on their headgear in this age. The constitution makes it clear that public servants cannot be discriminated against on the basis of any other characteristic than qualifications required for public services. There is no law that bans wearing a headscarf.”
She recalled that the Public Servants’ Dress Code regulation went into force on Oct. 25, 1982, after its publication in the Official Gazette No. 17849. “Nobody really dresses according to this regulation, yet no public servant is ever subject to an investigation for violating the code,” she said, asserting that the only use of the regulation is as an instrument for those who are against the headscarf. “Turkey has wasted a lot of time and energy in the past 12 years discussing this. People can work at state agencies wearing headscarves all over the world today. The regulation of 1982 and its archaic restrictions should be lifted and the draft law on Equality and Prevention of Discrimination should be enacted into law immediately.”
The educators’ union Türk-Eğitim-Sen, of which Kısa is also a member, expressed support for the teacher. Head of the union İsmail Koncuk said the right to wear a headscarf is a basic human right and said his union’s central executive committee has taken a decision to support all teachers who wish to wear a headscarf on school grounds. “We had earlier announced that we will be offering legal support to members who wear headscarves at schools. We have been discussing the headscarf for years and the headscarf has always been exploited as a political issue, both by those who are for and who are against it. It looks as if it is more profitable for some, politically, to enable the problem to continue rather than solve it.” He called on the authorities to change the Public Servants’ Dress Code regulation and called on everyone, regardless of their political background, to support the teacher.