In particular older conservative women who believed the AKP when it talked about womenʹs rights, are disappointed, says Cebeci. "In recent years levels of violence against women have increased and the men in the party are ignoring it." These women felt they were not being taken seriously, "the men see only the headscarf – for them thereʹs no woman beneath it."

Many women use pseudonyms online for fear of attacks. For example "Nurs": Speaking on the phone, she divulges that sheʹs a dentist in Ankara. She was subjected to crude harassment, and when women she defended were also insulted, she deleted her statement Tweet. But then she posted it back online. She says: "Itʹs important to be visible and encourage others."

Official reticence down to upcoming local elections

It may ultimately be only a few women who are daring to make a public statement, but they cannot be overlooked. Even the public office for religious affairs has responded, in an astonishingly mild manner: Ayse Sucu, responsible for womenʹs issues, explained: "The covering of the head" is not one of the five pillars of Islam. Not all believers have such a relaxed take on the matter. "Allah must heal her," read one comment on one womanʹs before-and-after photos, and another: "Youʹve lost your halo."

The official reticence – in pro-government media too – probably has something to do with the approaching local election. In the past, more women than men usually voted for Erdoganʹs AKP. Opinion polls are already predicting a loss of support for the party, primarily due to the economic crisis, which is naturally affecting poorer sections of society more than the rich.

Complaints have also been voiced about party cadres who have made their fortunes despite the Islamic exhortation to live a humble life. Erdogan on the other hand is giving no indication that he intends deviating from his conservative course: a short while ago he exhorted official religious employees to motivate women and children to attend mosque.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (photo: Reuters)
Wants a "religious generation": Recep Tayyip Erdogan gradually abolished Ataturk's headscarf bans: at universities first in 2008, followed by public service in 2013. Yet now, seventeen years into Erdoganʹs rule, some things are floundering – including the assumption that Turkish society is becoming increasingly conservative

Moreover, women who remove their headscarves also serve to confuse the secularists – after all, this means nothing fits the cliche. As the novelist Umit Kivanc wrote, bemoaning the split in society that appears to be almost insurmountable, these women "arenʹt running straight to the Ataturk mausoleum." Thatʹs why conservative women, whether or not they wear a headscarf, also rarely vote for the CHP.

Free women are to be feared

Journalist Cebeci says: "for many, free women are something to be feared." She is however at pains to point out that she does not favour a headscarf ban. Each and every woman should be able to decide for themselves. Liberal feminists also once made the case for allowing women to study while wearing the headscarf.

Cebeci and the others often find themselves being asked if they have forgotten the so-called ʹconviction roomsʹ, where female students were forced to bare their heads in the nineties. One of the responses read: "Back then we were in all probability still watching Tom and Jerry."

Konda ascertained that ten years ago, 50 percent of 15-to-29-year-old Turkish women didnʹt wear a headscarf; this has now risen to 58 percent. "My beauty," one woman wrote to Lefife Unal, "covering oneself isnʹt a divine law, itʹs a tradition, you can rest easy." Unal used her real name. As the second photo was taken she was working in a textile factory, now she plans to study, "maybe philosophy," she says, pushing away the empty tea glass.

An 18-year-old from the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir has already asked her for advice: she wanted to remove her headscarf, but was afraid of her brothersʹ reaction. "Today she called me, she spoke to her mother, it wasnʹt that difficult."

Unal says: "I wanted to support others, thatʹs why I published my pictures."

Christiane Schlotzer

© Suddeutsche Zeitung 2019

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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