This post has been UPDATED.
The AKP and now the opposition secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) under its new leadership are both seeking a way to change the constitution to allow women who cover their heads to attend university, something that is presently banned. But it looks like YÖK (the Higher Education Council that sets the rules in practice) has vaulted ahead by indicating, in a ruling on a particular case, that headscarves are OK in the classroom.
The case was that of a female student at Istanbul University Medical School who was kicked out of class for wearing the “turban” (a particular form of headscarf style that wraps around the head and covers all the hair; secularists associate this style with political Islam, although for many it is simply a modern, fashionable form of covering). YÖK’s response in the case was that the student could not be thrown out of class for reason of “acting against the disciplinary regime”. Instead, the teacher who threw her out is now under investigation. Istanbul University’s administration sent copies of YÖK’s response to all its faculty. The door appears to be open for women who cover, at least at Istanbul University. (click here, in English)
Could it be that easy after so many years of Sturm and Drang? The Constitutional Court in 2008 almost banned the ruling party and brought down the government (it was averted by one vote) after parliament changed the wording in the Constitution in such a way that headscarves would be allowed on campus. Well, YÖK’s decision is step 1. We’ll see if other universities follow suit. And whether anyone will challenge it. And I wonder why YÖK made such a decision. Why now?
In practice many universities around the country already have been allowing headscarves on campus and/or in classrooms. Radikal published a list of 29 universities that strictly enforce the no-headscarf rule, 8 where it is not enforced at all, 31 where headscarves are allowed on campus but not in classrooms, and several others that allow them in classrooms if the teacher permits it. (click here, in Turkish)
UPDATE 2: Here’s an article from the Wall Street Journal.