Turkey's Erdogan may propose vote to 'protect' women’s right to wear headscarves

Only 8 per cent of Turks see it as an issue but headscarves are back on the agenda ahead of next year's elections

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets MPs during his party' meeting at the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara, on November 2.  AFP
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he may call for a referendum to protect women’s right to wear headscarves and the conservative concept of the family in the constitution if MPs do not back his proposals.

The president raised the prospect of a referendum before his ruling AK Party (AKP) meets the opposition on the issue before presidential and parliamentary elections next June, with polls showing support for Mr Erdogan's conservative government slipping.

However, surveys show that few Turks see the Islamic headscarf as a point of debate any more, while critics claim that the real target is the LGBT+ community.

The headscarf was once a source of deep discord in Muslim but secular Turkey, but ceased to stir controversy after reforms by the religiously-rooted AKP during its 20 years in power.

However, the topic has returned to the fore after the secularist CHP suggested it would enshrine the right in law if it won in an apparent bid to woo conservative voters from the AKP. CHP has long opposed wearing headscarves in public offices and parliament.

Not to be outflanked, Mr Erdogan raised the stakes and proposed a constitutional reform, with measures to protect the family from what he called “perverse trends.”

He said a referendum could be called if the bill did not win support from the minimum 360 MPs in the 600-seat parliament needed for constitutional changes. AKP and its nationalist allies have 334 seats.

“We are ready to take other steps including a referendum,” Mr Erdogan told AKP deputies in parliament.

The AKP will hold talks with three opposition parties, including the CHP, broadcaster CNN Turk said.

Turkey's renewed headscarf debate follows widespread civil unrest in Iran over the death of a woman in custody who was detained for allegedly flouting the Islamic Republic's strict restrictions on women's dress.

When leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu announced the CHP's planned legislation on the headscarf in early October, Mr Erdogan responded by saying the issue had already been resolved.

But Mr Erdogan then pushed for constitutional changes including family-related measures, which Ibrahim Kaboglu, a CHP MP and constitutional professor, dismissed as an “opportunistic” bid to advance his own agenda.

A recent Metropoll survey found only 8 per cent of Turks believe headscarves are still an issue of debate.

On Monday, Mr Erdogan said the amendments also aimed to protect the family, saying: “While the unity between woman and man based on legitimacy is scorned; perversion, immorality and crooked relationships are being encouraged intentionally.”

Mr Erdogan and AKP lawmakers have toughened their rhetoric against LGBT+ people in recent years, frequently labelling them as “deviants” or “perverts”.

Updated: November 02, 2022, 5:27 PM