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More women to enter workforce if headscarf ban lifted, survey finds

Tuesday 7 December 2010, by Yonca Poyraz Doğan

The vast majority of participants in a newly-released survey believe that
the ban on the use of the Muslim headscarf on university campuses and in
public and private businesses is unjust and that the number of women in the
work force would increase if the ban were ended.

Over 72 percent said Turkey would witness an increase in women in the work
place in such a case. The poll was conducted by the Ankara-based MetroPOLL
Strategic and Social Research Center upon the request of the Turkish
Businesswomen Association (TIKAD). It was presented at a press conference on
Wednesday in Istanbul.

TIKAD was prompted to conduct a study on the headscarf ban as Turkey stands
near the bottom on a list of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD) countries — 136th among 140 countries — when it comes
to women’s employment, despite the fact that the Turkish economy has
attained impressive levels of economic growth. In Turkey, the headscarf ban
has been a matter of contention. Its use was banned on university campuses
shortly after the 1997 post-modern coup on the grounds that it poses a
threat to the secular order.

According to a new survey, over 72 percent of people believe that Turkey
would witness an increase of women in the workplace if the notorious
headscarf ban were to be lifted. In Turkey, state institutions will not hire
headscarf-wearing women. They are also denied employment in most private

State institutions will not hire headscarf-wearing women. They are also
denied employment in most private companies despite the lack of a law that
prohibits the use of the headscarf in private businesses.

According to the poll, women who wear headscarves overwhelmingly want to be
part of the workforce and their spouses concur. "There is a very positive
message for employers here," Professor Ihsan Dagi said when interpreting the
results. Dagi was also among those who conducted the survey.

The poll found that more than 50 percent of spouses of women who wear
headscarves say they would like their wives to be employed and to pursue an
education even if that means having to take off the headscarf. "So husbands
no longer prefer to see their wives stay at home and take care of the
children," Professor Dagi explained.

The professor also warned of potential conflict as women who wear
headscarves will also demand the right to employment in the public sector.
"We need to be prepared for conflict in that area. We need to determine who
can give public services and what their qualifications should be. And people
who serve in the public sector should accept those features," he said.

University students periodically hold demonstrations to denounce the ban on
wearing headscarves on university campuses. YÖK recently moved to lift the
notorious ban.

The respondents were also asked whether headscarved employees should enjoy
equal rights with their non-covered peers in the work place. An overwhelming
90 percent said they supported equal rights for covered and non-covered
employees. Only 8.5 percent said they were opposed.

’Politicians obstruct solution to headscarf problem, not society’

The poll has also revealed that the issue of the headscarf is an artificial
fault line used as a political tool by mostly male politicians to create
areas of conflict, whereas, in reality, people have no problem with
headscarved women receiving a university education and being employed. Over
76 percent said yes when asked if politicians use the headscarf issue for
political gains.

"Underestimating the problems that women face on the issue of the headscarf
means using it as a tool for ideological and political polarization," said
Nilüfer Bulut, TIKAD’s chairwoman, yesterday during a press conference. "Why
do fundamentalist religious males keep their places in the bureaucracy,
universities or Parliament while women who wear a headscarf are ousted, and
why are their rights to an education, a career and political participation
taken away?“she asked.”This means that the problem is not the headscarf but a fight for political
power through the headscarf issue by the ones called ’religious or
traditional’ and ’secular-modern’," Bulut added.

According to the poll, people — headscarf-wearing or not — said they felt
empathy for each other and that they do not view those who do or do not wear
a headscarf as “the other.”

The respondents were also asked their opinion about the motive behind one’s
decision to wear the headscarf. Contrary to belief expressed by some, most
headscarf-wearing women indicated that they choose to do so because of their
beliefs not because of a political aim. A total of 85 percent said it is
linked to religious beliefs, while only 0.7 percent thought women use the
headscarf as a political symbol. Staunchly secular people believe that the
headscarf is not a Muslim requirement and that it’s worn by women as a
political symbol.

The poll also showed that women who wear headscarves are not a homogenous
group as more educated, professional and mid to high-income-level women who wear a
headscarf feel more restricted in the society versus more traditional and
less educated headscarved women.

When asked if women should wear the headscarf, 78 percent said women should
be free to decide whether to do so or not.

In response to a question over whether headscarved students would pressure
their peers into covering their head if the ban were abolished, more than 70
percent said “no.” People who support the headscarf ban argue that uncovered
students would be pressured into covering their hair if the ban were ended.

Another question directed at respondents concerned social compromise on the
freedom to wear a headscarf on university campuses. About 61 percent said
ending the ban would contribute to a social compromise, while slightly more
than 32 percent disagreed with this statement.

Majority sorry for headscarved women due to discrimination

Survey participants were also asked whether they feel sorry for headscarved
women if they are either denied their right to a higher education or forced
to drop out of university due to the ban, 75.9 percent said “yes.” Only 19.6
percent said they do not feel sorry for them.

In response to a question on whether or not they would be disquieted to see
headscarved women pursuing a career, 87.4 percent said they would by no
means be bothered, while 11.4 percent said they would be. Asked whether they
would be uncomfortable working with a woman who wore a headscarf, an
overwhelming 89.1 percent responded “no.”

The MetroPOLL survey also featured self-criticism by headscarf-wearing
women. About 48 percent said covered women do not show the required
solidarity for bringing about and end to the headscarf ban. Women’s rights
associations opposed to the ban often hold demonstrations protesting it, but
such demonstrations have not proved really fruitful.

Professor Dagi said women should act together to overcome the problem.
"Politicians interferes in culture too much. The state should not interfere
with how people are dressed; instead, the state should be concerned with
whether or not people are responsible citizens and are complying with laws."

More than 57 percent of headscarved women said they had been treated
unjustly due to the headscarf ban, while 13.5 percent said they had not
experienced unjust treatment.

When asked whether they would be opposed to their son or brother marrying a
headscarf-wearing woman, 84 percent said “no.” Only 13.6 said they would not
consent to such a marriage. The survey also questioned male participants
about their wives’ headscarves. While 79.9 percent said their wives already
wore the headscarf before they got married, 17.7 percent said their wives
started wearing the headscarf after marriage of their own volition. Only 0.7
percent of the men surveyed said they had asked their wives to cover their
hair after marriage.

The poll was conducted from Oct. 20-31 by telephone among a random national
sampling of 3,052 adults residing in cities, towns and villages. The margin
of error for the overall poll is 1.8 percentage points, at a 95 percent
confidence level.

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Source : TdZ, 25 November 2010, Thursday

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