#10YearChallenge; Turkey puts spotlight on the headscarf

Women wearing headscarves look at a tablet computer

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The headscarf was banned for years in Turkey

Turkish social media users joining the hugely viral #10YearChallenge have sparked a debate about the practice of wearing the Islamic headscarf.

Turkish women who took off their headscarves adopted this trend to talk about the reasons behind their decision.

The topic has long been a controversial subject. Wearing headscarves in public institutions was banned for years and students were not allowed to go to university with their headscarves.

But over the past decade under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the ban has gradually been lifted.

Secularists see the headscarf as a symbol of politics and religious conservatism and accuse Mr Erdogan’s government of pushing a religious agenda.

Pressure on some young women to wear headscarves has also come from pious Muslim parents and some parts of wider society.

The #10YearChallenge has seen people sharing photos from 10 years ago and today but for some of the women in Turkey the decision to remove their headscarf was more recent, so they instead used the hashtag the #1yearchallenge.

Among them were Nazan, who shared a photo of her paragliding.

“#1yearchallenge, there is no possible way to describe how beautiful it feels to live as you believe and as you want,” she tweeted.

Another said: “I speak as someone who had to cover her head at seven years old, as someone who was sold to a husband when 14 years old (even as a student), but as someone who never gives up on her struggle,” Josephine tweeted.

“I’m telling to those women who have a storm to be breaking in their heart. You are not alone, never give up! 2011-2018.”

Many of those messages have been retweeted on Twitter by an online platform called You’ll Never Walk Alone.

It encourages Turkish women who took off their headscarves or who are thinking about taking off their headscarves, to share their stories.

The founder of the website told the BBC Turkish, on condition of remaining anonymous, that their aim was to show Turkish women that “they are not alone and that they are in solidarity with those women in their difficult journey”.

“Nobody at 13-14 years old age should be forced to wear something they’ll have to put on for the rest of their lives,” the founder said to BBC Turkish.

Here are some more of their stories

“Anybody can say anything they want. WE ARE LIBERATED and this has nothing to do with our family or our entourage,” Busranur wrote.

“Our thoughts about ourselves and our thoughts about what we can do have been liberated.

“We are purified from any kind of dogmas – the religion could ever impose on a woman. We did not play the role others have assigned for us. We have become ourselves #10yearchallenge.”

“I do smile all the time but life is not always bed of roses for me. As a graduate from Imam Hatip religious high school, it was me fighting for the right of wearing a headscarf (in universities) but I also fought to take off it for eight years,” another tweeted.

“For a long time, I had an inner struggle and for the five years it has turned out to be struggle against my entourage and the whole society.”

Others saw it differently

There has been a counter response though, with some users defending their right to wear a headscarf.

“#1yearchallenge We have grown, became beautiful and liberated. We are free with our headscarves,” wrote Elif.

“Think whatever you want, we are not covering ourselves because of family pressure. This is our very own belief. We can only comment about ourselves, not you.”

Men joined in the debate too

“Anybody can cover themselves or uncover as they like, this is nobody’s business,” wrote one.

“I see posts from those uncovering over the last few days. I think it turned out to be a bit of an empty talk! You should have respect for those putting on headscarves as well as those who take them off. Stop making insulting comments!”

This user said “identifying freedom with the headscarf is wrong”.

“Associating headscarf with liberation (freedom) is bigotry. Freedom is an ability to act freely without being under anyone’s oppression. Sometimes, even self-covering would be freedom.”

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