Prescribing Lifestyles Limits Creativity

Published on 12th February 2008

Whenever business opportunities crop up, entrepreneurs rise up to the challenge and meet the needs as they arise. Turkey’s need for headscarves enough for about 35 million women has just presented itself. I hope there is an African Textiles company somewhere busy producing headscarves to meet the high demand for the garment in Turkey.


It was quite a stance watching Turkey’s parliament resoundingly approve constitutional amendments aimed at lifting a ban on female students wearing the Muslim headscarf. Whenever issues of gender and religion crop up in reference to dressing codes, controversy is certain to emerge. While the amendment might have been good news to many, it was also bad news to some.


If the large number of secularists who opposed the lifting of the ban by demonstrating on the streets of Ankara is anything to by, the world should brace itself for tough times ahead. Whether a country subscribes to a certain line of philosophy, prescribing lifestyles to its citizenry is prone to be challenged.


Headscarves are adorned for fashion, social distinction, religious significance, modesty or any other personal expression acts. The Roman and Islamic culture of the 70 million Turks ought to have been given the freedom of expression. Headscarves were considered chic among many women in Central Europe (then a Roman Catholic region) in the first century. The Virgin Mary in Biblical archeology is depicted wearing a headscarf in all her appearances.


History reveals that, after the renaissance (12th century), the headscarf started to fade off in many parts of Europe. Hair was considered pretty enough to be a woman's only head cover. However, only rich women could afford a proper hairstyle. The scarf slowly changed its status to a symbol of poverty. The poorer classes who could not afford the luxury of a hair cut or style adorned it.  In the 20th century, women moved away from headscarves entirely. It became a symbol for the simple housewife – some kind of working gear.


In Africa, the headscarf is celebrated as an elaborate ornamental symbol. Although parts of northern Africa have an Islamic inclination that entails women wearing the Hijab (Arabic term for “cover”), women from other parts of the continent adorn the headscarf largely as a sign of status and beauty.


Women students in Turkey now have the power to choose whether or not to wear headscarves. The war on ‘dress code bans’ worldwide could just be in its introduction stage. France… are you next?

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