Blog Post

A Victory for Headscarves and Religious Freedom

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

On October 8, the Turkish government lifted its ban on headscarves for women in state offices. And just a couple of weeks ago, on October 31, four female MPs marked the end of the ban by walking into Turkey’s parliament in Ankara wearing headscarves.

The move was a dramatic one, considering what happened on May 2, 1999, when Becket Fund client and female politician, Merve Kavakci, tried to
enter parliament with a headscarf on and was immediately accosted by hundreds of secularist members. Prime minister, Bulent Ecevit, told MPs to “put this woman in her place”; as she left, her colleagues chanted “get out”.

Kavakci lost her seat in 2001. But this was not the end of her ordeal. Then-President Suleyman Demirel labeled her an “agent provocateur” and the media portrayed her as nothing less than a criminal. When she was stripped of her Turkish citizenship, Kavakci had no choice but to flee.

With the Becket Fund’s help, Kavakci successfully appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.  The Court held that Kavakci’s expulsion from parliament violated her human rights. Since then, Kavakci has been a global spokeswoman for religious freedom. In particular, she speaks about the rights of Muslim women to interpret and express their faith free from government coercion.

And that includes the right to wear or not wear religious garb, whether it be headscarves, burqas, yarmulkes or turbans. When a government forbids Muslims, Jews, Sikhs or anybody else who wears religious garb from doing so in public, it dictates the “proper” or “acceptable” way to live out those faiths—and that is unacceptable.

The Becket Fund congratulates Merve Kavakci and Turkey on this new victory for religious freedom.