Thousands of civil servants protest against dress code

Thousands of civil servants protest against dress code

A headscarved woman signs a petition created by Memur-Sen aimed at pushing for the removal of a headscarf ban at public agencies. (Photo: Today's Zaman, Mevlüt Karabulut)

March 18, 2013, Monday/ 16:51:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Thousands of public servants working in various state institutions and agencies protested against the government's official dress code policy and went to work in their casual clothes on Monday.

The Civil Servants' Trade Union (Memur-Sen) and several other nongovernmental organizations connected to Memur-Sen launched a protest against the government's uniform dress code which requires male civil servants to wear a formal shirt, trousers and a tie, female civil servants to wear formal dresses and bans the Islamic headscarf in public institutions and agencies in Turkey.

As part of the protest, thousands of civil servants went to work in their casual clothes, violating the dress code for public sector employees. The civil servants said that they will continue with their protest until the government adopts regulations to guarantee public servants' right to dress freely without any restrictions or obligations.

Memur-Sen, in conducting the protest, is trying to highlight the fact that the current dress code for the public sector is against both the fundamental rights and freedoms in the Turkish Constitution and international human right principles in international conventions and declarations which Turkey is a signatory to. In a written statement released by the union, Memur-Sen stated that although the dress code violates people's dignity with its numerous bans and is against international human right principles, it has been in force for over 30 years.

Memur-Sen, which conducted an online petition between Jan. 14 and Feb. 14 to collect 12.3 million signatures to push for the removal of a ban on the Islamic headscarf at public agencies, presented the signatures to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security a few days ago.

The campaign is one among several moves which have recently been made seeking to address the headscarf ban in the public sector, though Parliament's Constitutional Reconciliation Commission has been reluctant to discuss the issue despite a growing expectation by the public to address the matter in the new constitution.

Memur-Sen President Ahmet Gündoğdu officially launched the petition on Jan. 10 during a press conference at Memur-Sen's headquarters. Noting that the dress code for public sector employees is the product of a pro-coup mentality, Gündoğdu said it was an absurd practice for civil servants, who had the right to elect deputies, not to be given the right to choose their clothing.

The headscarf ban at Turkish universities, which was introduced after the Feb. 28, 1997 coup, was eased after the Higher Education Board (YÖK) sent a circular to universities in 2010 asking them to admit headscarved students. Yet, there are still some universities and professors who insist on implementing the ban. The unofficial ban on the use of headscarves is also in practice in government offices, where employees are told to leave their hair exposed.

A report prepared by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) in November 2012 revealed that 76.3 percent of people in Turkey think headscarved women should be able to work in the public sector. The report was based on a survey by TESEV titled “Definitions and Expectations Regarding the New Constitution” in which 2,699 people from 29 provinces participated.

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