With war on its eastern borders, and renewed turmoil inside them, Turkey is transfixed by something else entirely: the desire of university-age women to wear the Muslim headscarf on campus, a seemingly innocent sartorial choice that has been forbidden by the courts, off and on, since 1980. At public meetings and street demonstrations, in art exhibits, TV ads, and dance and music performances, headscarf opponents argue vociferously that removing the ban will be the first step backward to the musty old days of the Ottoman Empire. A quieter majority of 70 percent, according to a recent poll, thinks that pious students should be allowed to cover their heads, perhaps because approximately 64 percent of Turkish women do so in daily life.
After the victory of the Welfare Party in the municipal elections of March 1994, the newly-elected mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, thanked the disciplined and devoted Islamist women who had campaigned door-to-door until election day. Islamist women also gave the same determined performance during the general election campaign. Contrary to expectations, however, the Welfare administration refused at the last minute to allow women to become parliamentary candidates for the general elections in December 1995. Headscarved women, they claimed, would have difficulty because of the dress code which prohibits women in public offices from wearing the headscarf, a prohibition which applies to women deputies in the parliament.
Mary Jean Green, Karen Gould, Micheline Rice-Maximin et al, eds., Postcolonial Subjects: Francophone Women Writers (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).
Winifred Woodhull, Transfigurations of the Maghreb: Feminism, Decolonization and Literatures (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
There is a bill pending in the Israeli Knesset that would allow women the option to use the country’s civil courts for personal status matters. Liberal Israeli feminists see this as promoting “women’s rights” by loosening the grip of religious authorities over women’s personal lives. But Israel is not a liberal state, so there is something fundamentally problematic in assuming common gender interests, since women in Israel have no common status or rights as citizens. In fact, as long as Israel is a Jewish state, the Muslim, Christian and Druze religious institutions will remain important sources of communal identity for Israel’s Arabs (women and men), since the civil state is not really “theirs.”
Fedwa Malti-Douglas, Men, Women and God(s): Nawal El Saadawi and Arab Feminist Poetics (California, 1995).
Fatima Mernissi, The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam (Addison-Wesley, 1991).
Hisham Sharabi, ed., Theory, Politics and the Arab World: Critical Responses (Routledge, 1990).
Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Ann Russo and Lourdes Torres, eds., Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (Indiana, 1991).
Laila Said, A Bridge Through Time: A Memoir (New York: Summit, 1985).