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Turkey’s Opposition Opens Up to the Hijab

The CHP used to back a ban on the hijab in public life in Turkey. It’s changed its tone recently, but not everyone trusts it. For Turkish women wearing the hijab, or Muslim headscarf, life in the public sphere was once impossible.

Beginning in the 1980s, after decades of state-sanctioned efforts to discourage women from wearing hijabs, a ban on wearing them in state institutions was implemented, affecting university staff, students, lawyers, politicians and others in the public sector. In 1997, after a military coup toppled an Islamist-led government, the ban was fully enforced, a longstanding prohibition that was only removed in 2013 by the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party), led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was then prime minister.

In a sign of just how much Turkey has changed, Erdogan and the AK Party’s main rival in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has cast aside its staunchly secular stance and reversed its longstanding opposition to the hijab in recent years, and assured women that their right to wear a headscarf would be protected.

Women wearing the hijab can now be seen at CHP rallies, on its election posters, and even among its politicians.

It is part of the party’s effort to present itself as more palatable to the large segments of society that are conservative and religious, as the CHP attempts to broaden its coalition.

“The CHP has gone softer on religious freedom. They wouldn’t dare to back such a ban today. People are more educated and aware of their rights,” Esin, a beauty salon worker who wears the hijab told Al Jazeera while taking a stroll with her friend in Istanbul’s Karakoy district.

The 41-year-old was among those who decided to leave university and study from home instead, as a result of the ban. She says it is why she voted for the AK Party, and eventually worked for the ruling party for eight years.

Ironically, she is now deciding whether she will simply not vote on Sunday, or whether she will vote for the CHP to get the AK Party out.

“They [the AK Party] have politicised the hijab as a tool to get more votes,” Esin said. “They would do anything to get more votes.”

Standing by her, Sevgi, a 50-year-old retired social services officer, who also wears a headscarf, said that she was not afraid of a CHP win, and was planning on voting for the party.

“I don’t think the CHP will go back to its ‘old way’. They will respect women’s right to wear the veil,” Sevgi told Al Jazeera.

The same CHP?

Not everyone is as convinced by the CHP’s change of tone.

Fatma, an academic, left Turkey for the United States having felt frozen out of Turkish academia over her choice to wear the headscarf.

“This is not a hundred years-old issue. It is as young as me, my friends, and our mums and aunts,” she told Al Jazeera. “I do not think removing the ban suddenly erased the biases and attitudes of people towards each other.”

Fatma says that she does not buy the change of heart from the CHP.

“I cannot suddenly believe that this political stance will now protect me. I do not believe that they have changed. At least they have not convinced me that they did.”

Source : Aljazeera