Conservative Muslim Women Helped Erdoğan Win Previous Elections. Now Some Are Turning Against Him

Şeyma Çetin is bursting with color: bright blue and pink eye shadow, a green half-sleeved shirt with jeans, a tie, and an orange headscarf. Her clothes and makeup stand out among other Turkish women in headscarves, and that’s Çetin’s goal: to show that it’s okay to be different. It’s a statement of defiance.

The headscarf was for a long time a controversial symbol in Turkey, where it was seen as a threat to the modern republic’s secular origins. For Çetin, though, it symbolizes freedom of choice.

“This is part of my political identity,” she says softly with a smile. “Society says a lot about what a woman in a headscarf should do, but actually, we can do anything.”

The 23-year-old student is among a growing number of women who call themselves Muslim feminists—and who aren’t going to be boxed in by stereotypes. They belong to a new generation of religious women marked by their increasingly vocal opposition to Turkey’s conservative government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Read More: How Women Activists in Turkey Keep Fighting in a Climate of Fear

Their mothers saw Erdoğan as an ally thanks to his lifting of a highly contentious ban on wearing the headscarf in government offices in 2013. Earlier that year, as the Gezi Park anti-government protests swept across Turkey, he had co-opted them as a constituency, describing them as “our sisters in headscarves.” But in the decade that followed, many younger religious women like Çetin have shifted away from the President and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). They accuse the government of trying to roll back the hard-won rights of Turkish women, including removing legal protections against gender-based violence and severely limiting access to abortion.


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