Saturday, April 27, 2013

Thinking About Headscarves.

This morning a friend posted this link to a blog post about living as a headscarf wearer in Izmit, Turkey. Basically she feels marginalised in Turkey because she is unable to go into some places while wearing a headscarf (some restaurants don't allow people wearing them to eat there, you can't enrol in university, work in parliament and other government organisations with one.) She has experienced people being deliberately rude to her - flicking her headscarf and asking if she would wear it in Britain (she is a UK national, Muslim convert.)

A fair few people commented on my friends link to this post - everyone hated the rudeness, but people also brought up legitimate concerns about security where burka wearers (the full shebang, with face covered too) are concerned. I don't mean 'they could have a bomb under there!' sure they could, but just as easily you could wear a bomb like a fake pregnancy. It's more stuff like schools being unable to identify exactly who is collecting a child from a school gate, or women using someone else's passport to go to another country and trusting in their anonymity not to be discovered.

Nobody commented on the headscarf ban in government buildings, other than to say - if you want a democratic country the religious need to be free to wear what they want. In theory I agree with this. I am very pro democracy, very pro human rights, but I am not sure lifting the headscarf ban would be pro human rights. In the West of Turkey, yes. Women are freer. They make real choices. The ones I have spoken to wear them because they believe it is part of their religion and it makes them feel closer to God to do so. It is their own free choice to do so. In the East of Turkey however, the government actively has to make parents send their daughters to school. There is a culture of thought that there is very little point in educating a girl. Some people even go so far as not to register their female children so they will never be in the system and not have to go to school. Would women like that really be free to choose whether or not to wear a headscarf? Having said that they are probably not really free to choose now - at least if you were allowed to wear a headscarf anywhere you wanted they would have a slightly higher chance of further education and better jobs.

I am not really sure what I think. I dislike seeing young girls (anyone under 15 or 16, but you see them as young as 9) wearing headscarves. [Brief pause while I digress] I don't think you are born as part of a religion (whether or not a particular religion claims you, as is the case with Judaism.) I think you are born a baby. Your parents may or may not have religious beliefs, that a child may or may not follow. My husband and I are different. We teach the boys about religion in the third person: Muslims believe this, Christians believe that, Jews believe, Buddhists believe, Sikhs believe etc. We do actually both have beliefs. When the kids are older we both hope they will decide to follow a religion, but that they will do it out of a sense of personal conviction. I in particular never want my children to have to wonder if they believe something because they have always been taught it, or if they believe something because it is true. I don't think science can conclusively prove or disprove the existence of God. I think you can only prove it to yourself as an individual though experience. You can not brainwash a person into faith and I don't want to try. Anyway, the point of this digression, I think children are too young to choose their religion, wearing a headscarf is most certainly a sign of religious affiliation. Not only that but it is a sign of womanhood. A nine year old is not a woman and should not be looked at as one, in any way ever.

The area we live in probably has a 50-50 split of women wearing (or not) a headscarf. You see groups of teens hanging out some with their heads covered some not. I have never felt discriminated against because of my lack of headscarf. I think all the locals, both expat and native share a common sense of shocked amusement at the tourists who wander around town either in bikinis or shirtless - as an aside I was more shocked by the shirted guy with just speedos underneath than the ones with shorts but no shirts, good to know! Yesterday I was in town and it was about 35 degrees (95f) - women wearing headscarves and full long sleeved coats kept walking past me. They were melting. Their husbands were standing next to them in shorts and t-shirts. And that irritated me. Why would a religion dictate you have to wear such weather inappropriate clothing? I find it equally dumb in the UK when you see women in mid-winter out for the night in strappy tops and mini-skirts. A choice dictated by peer-pressure and culture.

I guess in a way I am lucky, I experience very little peer, cultural, or religious pressure (although enough to occasionally tie me up in knots.) If you do live in a society with these thing present, is it possible to make choices without those pressures dictating your choices and still be accepted? I'm not sure, but that is the type of democracy and freedom I am in favour of.

Image credit to the cartoonist Malcom Evans via the society pages

Note. in my town plenty of people wear headscarves, they do not wear burkas (as pictured above,) the only people I have seen wearing a burka were tourists.


  1. I see absolutely no problem with the headscarf at all. The full blown Burka though is another thing. I once had a private student, a rich businessman and we got on really well, even though I understood he was very Islamic. One day he invited me for dinner, when I arrived I was shocked to find his wife fully covered in a Burka. Being the inquiring sort I asked why she was wearing it. "Her beauty is only for me " was his answer.

    A few weeks later, he called me and asked if we could do the lesson in a cafe overlooking the beach. It was a beautiful sunny day, and Russian tourist aplenty sunbathing. The lesson was useless as he spent most of the time commenting on woman's bodies all around him! - the hypocritical ideals he had that his wife's beauty was only for him but any other man's wife was fair game to oggle and comment on, left me raging and never ever taught him again!

    1. that seems more logical than me disliking them because they are "weather inappropriate."

  2. I hate seeing young girls in headscarves too.

    1. I probably should add that I have an almost equal dislike of young children dressed like teenagers / MTV pop stars. The lack of that here is one of the main reasons I feel we've made the right decision as a family to stay in Turkey - kids can be kids.