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Is the headscarf the number-one obstacle to education?

HDN | 11/10/2010 12:00:00 AM | BİNNAZ TOPRAK

The biggest obstacle to women’s education or contribution to the labor force is not the headscarf issue but conservatism, economic difficulties or social problems.

The most important obstacle in front of women’s education or work is not the headscarf but conservative attitudes.

The president of the Religious Affairs Directorate said wearing the headscarf is an obligation on Islamic communities, but it is not among the prime principles. What I understand from this is that it is necessary for Muslim women to cover their heads, but others who do not wear headscarves cannot be said to be losing their religion.

Together with Professor Ali Çarkoğlu I ran a study in 1999; we reached a similar result. We found out through a public poll that 75 percent of university students backed the headscarf freedom. The result, however, was fiercely criticized. The figure was objected to, and it was said that there must have been a mistake. But other surveys afterwards proved the figure. Not all of the 75 percent thought that a Muslim woman must wear the headscarf. Only 59 percent believed so. On the other hand, 85 percent said that if a woman believes in God and the Prophet Mohammed, even if she doesn’t wear a headscarf, they can accept her as Muslim. But the percentage of participants who approved the closed Welfare Party, or RP’s, attitude toward the headscarf was low, 46 percent. The majority seemed tired of polarization.

[HH] Another study in 2004

A study on women we conducted with Professor Ersin Kalaycıoğlu in 2004 gave us critical results. We asked some women why they didn’t go to university. Some 30 percent failed the university entrance exam, 20 percent blamed economic reasons such as financial difficulties in their family or a need to work. While 15 percent left school after getting married, 11 percent said their families asked them to quit. Some 10 percent didn’t want to go to school anymore. Only 1 percent blamed the headscarf ban in universities for not seeking higher education.

We had asked the same question for professional life: Why don’t women work? The number-one reason was that they had children to take care of, at 23 percent. Some 18 percent said that the men in their family did not want them to work and 17 percent said they couldn’t find a job. Considering the fact that the percentage of women in the labor force has dropped dramatically, the figure is probably higher nowadays. Some 8 percent believed women should remain at home, 3 percent said the circles they live in did not approve of working women and 1 percent didn’t want to work among men. To that we can add the 17 percent who said men in their family did not allow them to work. Therefore, the biggest obstacle to women’s employment is conservative opinions, at 30 percent. Not being able to work due to the headscarf ban remained at the bottom, at 0.5 percent.

[HH] A fundamental right and the figure

If these percentages have not changed, is it normal that a country has been fighting like mad for years for 1 percent of women and 0.5 percent of the entire population? Education is a fundamental right. Figures are negligible in terms of fundamental rights. The headscarf issue of university students must be resolved. However, these figures give another result: The biggest obstacle against women’s education or contribution to the labor force is not the headscarf issue but conservative attitudes, economic difficulties or social problems such as child care. In order to strengthen women’s position in Turkey, we should fight conservatism and reinforce the social state, which is referred to in the Constitution.

* Binnaz Toprak is a columnist for daily Radikal, in which this piece first appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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