School uniforms out, headscarves OK in religious classes
Uniforms have been required for grade-school students in Turkey for many years, while the wearing of headscarves was not allowed.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 04/12/12
Starting next year, grade-schoolers will no longer be required to wear monotype uniforms, a nationwide requirement since early in the republic, according to the new regulations of the country's Education Ministry.
Children walk home from school in Istanbul. The government is relaxing the dress code for grade-school students, including the requirement for uniforms and rules against the wearing of headscarves. [AFP]
The regulation also lifted the headscarf ban for religious imam-hatip schools and other schools during optional courses on the Quran.
Students will have the option of wearing uniforms. The amendments to the dress code were published in the Official Gazette on November 27th.
Pupils will be allowed to wear casual clothing meeting specific requirements. Transparent, too-tight and sleeveless clothing is forbidden by the new code, as well as any clothes or accessories bearing emblems of political symbols, shapes or writing.
"These are all steps taken as a result of a demand," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.
Mehmet Emin Zararsız, Education Ministry undersecretary, said the new regulations have "absolutely no political reasons" and were designed to bring international practices to Turkey.
"You can't find any developed country that bans the parents from dressing their child the way they want," Zararsiz said. "Now, we do the same in Turkey."
The move sparked questions among secularists, however.
"The crucial question is does the AKP work to deepen democracy with this decree, or does it aim at widening freedoms only for its own constituency by providing ticket for veil in schools?" said Onder Kucukural, an Istanbul-based analyst and doctoral candidate in the political science programme at Sabanci University. "Actually, currently we are very much confused about the aim of the decree," Kucukural told SES Türkiye.
Gunes Murat Tezcur, author of the book Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: The Paradox of Moderation, said that of the priorities for the AKP government is "to gradually abolish the state practices that limit public display of practices and symbols associated with Sunni Islam."
The recent overhaul of the education system from 5+3 to 4+4+4 is primarily motivated to increase the importance and number of religious schools (imam-hatip) in public education, experts said.
"Similarly, the government abolished the mandatory school uniforms to make it possible for girls who attend imam-hatips to wear [a] headscarf," Tezcur told SES Türkiye. "In practice, many girls have attended imam-hatips with [a] headscarf in any case."
Citing local surveys, the analyst added, there is widespread support for government's attempts to end the limitations on public display of Sunni Islam practices and symbols.
"In fact, according to the latest survey by KONDA/TESEV, a majority supports the idea that public officials [such as teachers] can wear a headscarf at work," Tezcur said.
Halil Karaveli, an Istanbul-based senior fellow with the Turkey Initiative at Johns Hopkins University's Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, said there is "nothing dramatic about these changes; headscarves when attending religion courses have always been allowed."
"Yet you might say that the AKP government is signaling that the militaristic era, when the whole of society was supposed to be regimented, fitted into one, all-size Kemalist uniform, starting from the schools, is over," he told SES Türkiye. "In that sense this is a liberal change."
However, he said there was speculation the uniform rule change is the first step in a process by the government to open up schools for religious attire more generally in the schools.
"But, on the other hand, that is something that only secularists who are militant and narrow minded could object to," Karaveli said.