Although Hayrünnisa is mostly known to Turkey in connection with her husband, in 1988 she made news because of her headscarf. She had applied to the Arabic Language and Literature Department of Ankara University for enrollment but was refused because of her headscarf. Later, she referred the issue to the European Court of Human Rights. However, when Gül became foreign minister, she withdrew her application in 1994.
In an exclusive interview with the Zaman daily, she once said that “the basic reason for my decision was not to create a controversial discussion of judicial decisions, but to ensure trust and respect. Unfortunately, my application was viewed from political perspectives.”
In the same interview she noted that one day, when the problem is tackled, she wants to enjoy her right to attend university. She explained that apart from not being invited to official receptions at the Çankaya Presidential Palace, she has not experienced any other problems because of her headscarf.
“In the countries we visited, I have been paid great respect. No reference has been made to my headscarf. They have been respectful toward me. This is so both in the West and the East. Our foreign guests, too, accept me as I am,” she said.
With a good chance that her husband will become Turkey’s next president, Hayrünnisa will bring her headscarf to Turkey’s most visible symbol of secularism -- the presidency. To her, however, the issue is not political but personal.
“The headscarf problem was an issue of the past in Turkey and is also being experienced today. Or at least, my daughter faces this problem. I believe that it will be tackled as Turkey becomes more mature. Looking back, this will remain my unfulfilled desire. When this problem is settled, I really want to attend university.”
Hayrünnisa spends most of her time organizing charities as the wife of the foreign minister. She is also the head of the Foreign Ministry solidarity group. When she gives receptions for the wives of foreign diplomats, she is known to prepare the menu herself and avails herself of these opportunities to introduce the traditional handcrafts of Turkish women.