The Constitutional Committee of the Turkish Grand National Assembly approved on Wednesday an amendment on the right to wear a headscarf and the protection of family by the majority votes of ruling bloc MPs.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and centre-right Good Party (İYİP) proposed changes to the proposal in the pre-voting talks that started on Tuesday. After the opposition’s proposal was rejected by the ruling party MPs, CHP and İYİP representatives left the commission and did not participate in the voting.
Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MPs, who declared at the commission meeting on 18 January that they would not participate in the constitutional amendment talks as a matter of principle, did not take part in the talks or the vote.
CHP’s leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu recently reawakened the debate over the headscarf in Turkey when he vowed to secure the right to wear a headscarf constitutionally as an electoral promise in October.
Upon Kılıçdaroğlu’s promise to constitutionally secure the right to wear a headscarf, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for a constitutional amendment on the matter, and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) presented a proposal to parliament.
For a significant portion of Turkey’s history as a republic, Islamic head coverings were banned in public institutions due to secularism being enshrined in its constitution. The restrictions were lifted in 2013 and currently, there is no ban on headscarves in any institution including primary schools and the judiciary.
AKP’s proposal based the right to wear headscarves on the declaration of religious belief rather than the freedom of expression via dress.
In addition, the new amendment explicitly states that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and introduces the requirement of legal marriage for the state to provide any familial protections. While Turkish law did not recognise gay marriage before the amendment, such explicit language was not present in law. Opposition groups have deemed the new language as another affront to the country’s LGBT community.
The Women’s Platform for Equality (EŞİK), the umbrella association of women’s organisations in Turkey, has been campaigning against the proposal and called for an “unequivocal” no on the vote:
“We remind all MPs that the expectation of all women, wearing a head scarf or not, is that you do not interfere with their freedom to dress, do not turn it into a political matter and that you implement and enforce the prohibition of discrimination in the Constitution. We expect that you do not discriminate against sexual orientation or gender identity.”
With the committee’s approval, the proposal is now set to be voted on in the General Assembly. To pass into law, the General Assembly must accept the proposal with over 400 votes.
If it gets the votes of 360 to 400 deputies in the General Assembly, a referendum will determine the decision on the proposal.