Army was final Turkish institution in which women were prohibited from wearing headscarves
Turkey will lift a ban on female officers wearing the Islamic headscarf in the officially secular country’s armed forces, according to state media.
The military was the final Turkish institution where women were prohibited from wearing the headscarf, after reforms by the Islamic-rooted government under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that have allowed it to be worn in education, politics and the police.
The move, ordered by the defence ministry, applies to female officers working in the general staff and command headquarters and branches, the state-run Anadolu news agency said on Wednesday.
Women may wear the headscarf underneath their cap or beret as long as it is the same colour as their uniform and does not cover their faces.
The reform will come into force once it is published in the official gazette. It will also apply to female cadets, but it was not immediately clear if it applied to women on combat missions.
The ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), co-founded by Erdoğan, has long pressed for the removal of restrictions on women wearing the headscarf.
Speaking to Turkish reporters at his offices in Ankara, Binali Yıldırım, the prime minister, said he believed the removal of the ban was “very positive”, the pro-government daily Yeni Safak said.
The military has traditionally been seen as the strongest bastion of secular Turkey and had been hostile to any perceived Islamisation of state institutions.
But its political power has ebbed since the government increased control over the armed forces after the failed military coup in July, blamed on followers of the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.
Turkey lifted a ban on the wearing of the headscarf on university campuses in 2010. It allowed female students to wear it in state institutions from 2013 and in high school in 2014.
Headscarves have been seen in parliament since October 2013, when four female AKP MPs wore them in a session. In 1999, a headscarf-wearing MP from the now-defunct Virtue party had been heckled out of the chamber.
And in the latest key reform before the army’s move, in August Turkey allowed female police officers to wear the headscarf as part of their uniform.
At the time of the controversy over lifting the ban in the police forces, pro-government media pointed out that several western states had already granted female officers permission to wear the garment.
The military was until now seen as the last holdout on the issue, although civilians employed by the armed forces have been able to wear the hijab since 2016.
There had been signs that the landmark reform was in the offing when press reports said that a woman, Merve Gurbuz, was undergoing training that could make her Turkey’s first hijab-wearing fighter pilot.
Erdoğan’s critics have long accused the president of eating away at the secular pillars of modern Turkey set up by its founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, when he established the Turkish republic in 1923.
The government rejects the suggestions, saying it allows freedom of worship for all Turkish citizens whatever their beliefs.