‘Taking off hijab is harder than putting it on’
Before-and-after pictures of women wearing the hijab and then after taking off their Islamic headscarves shared on social media in Turkey have kicked up a storm of debate within the deeply divided society and even violent threats against those who posted their photographs.
The pictures mimicked the #10YearChallenge that became popular on social media worldwide this year in which people post side-by-side photos of themselves from the present and 10 years ago. But in Turkey, many women chose to post pictures of themselves when they used to wear the Islamic headscarf and now, when they are no longer covered up.
The posts posed a challenge to the dominant narrative of the ruling Islamist party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who has repeatedly said he wants to nurture what he calls a pious generation.
Some of the women shared their stories.
“From a young girl who had to comply with the realities of a society unquestioningly, to a woman who committed herself to live her life as an individual,” said Rabia Okur last week when sharing her photos.
Okur said she began wearing the hijab when she was 12-years-old. She said she had seen it as only natural as she had been brought up in a conservative environment. But when she started secondary school, she said she started questioning the reasons. At first, her questioning led her to follow the rules of Islam more carefully as she thought that if she wore hijab, she had to live accordingly.
Okur took off her hijab during her second year at university. She said she had made the decision after observing the inequalities between men and women and polarisation within society.
“When I started noticing those inequalities, I came across feminism. The gap between my beliefs and my opinions were widening,” Okur said, adding that wearing hijab became more difficult as her opinions changed.
“I must add that taking off hijab is much harder than putting it on,” she said. “I was insulted many times when I was covered, but I have been facing different insults since I took it off.”
Okur said her family for a long time could not accept her decision and psychologically had pressured her. But as a result of her determination, they got used to it. “If only woman can take the courage. If only they do not give up their struggle and self-respect,” she said.
Elif, now a 23-year-old woman, started wearing hijab when she was 11. She said she wore the hijab because her family wanted it. “I have spent the last two years trying to take it off,” she said.
“I thought about it and read for two years. The injustices in the world, grievances, lack of love, the position of women in Islam … Those issues influenced me a lot,” she said. “Those two years wore me down. I wanted to take off my headscarf when I was walking in the street. For the first five months, I took it off keeping it a secret from my family. When my family found out, they thought it was because I was going to university. They regretted supporting my education.”
Elif had to leave her parents’ house and live alone for a year until her father accepted her decision to take off the hijab and asked her to return. She is now the only uncovered woman among her extended family.
Elif said that when she wore hijab, she noticed some people avoided sitting next to her in public, thought she had not had any individual opinions, and had been surprised when they learnt that she had been reading the same books and listening to the same songs as them.
“People see covered woman only from the perspective of religion and forget that she has a personality too. But when you take off your veil, others think your personality will also degenerate,” she said.
“10-year change only in one year,” said Deniz Kılınç, when she shared her photos on Twitter.
She started wearing hijab when she was 12-year-old as she wanted to be accepted in her environment. Kılınç wore hijab for 11 years. “I wanted to take it off before, several times. Then I woke up one morning, said I will not wear this again and I have not ever since,” she said.
The young woman said that she had to go through a difficult process after making the decision, adding that being a woman already hard enough in Turkey. “In fact what you wear or who you are has no importance,” she said.
Kılınç said women wearing hijab still experienced problems in their careers, despite the 17-year rule of an Islamist government, which removed the ban on headscarf in higher education and the public sector.
“You can be sacked for example if you do not accept wearing a wig instead of a headscarf. These are personal decisions of employers. Many firms do not recruit you for wearing hijab or you know that they would not and therefore do not bother to apply,” she said.
Kılınç has not seen her father for some time. “Families find it tough to accept, but their children are not their property,” she said. “Everyone should be free, the sufferings of women are enough. Nobody should intervene in our decisions and our lives.
Medya Şentürk, a young woman studying journalism, said she could not share her photos from her days wearing hijab as she had deleted all of them.
Şentürk started wearing the hijab when she was 21-year-old as she was the only uncovered woman in her extended family. “I was never too religious, but I thought I would make my family happier and be loved more if I was covered,” she said.
Şentürk said she was not against hijab, but she did not feel good when she wore it. After three years, Şentürk said she decided to take off her headscarf. “I felt like I was reborn. I was more confident, more like myself,” she said.