A woman's choice of dress should be as free choice as her faith. Limiting or hindering a woman's freedom to live her life freely is nothing other than oppression. Turkey has come a long way from what it was, but traces of ignorance still remain.
I came from a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains to a city my parents call home and tell me this is where my roots belong and who I am. Five months ago, I left the most livable city in the world, the pavements I grazed my knees learning to ride my bike, the weeping willows that shroud me in privacy as I whispered secrets with my friends and promised cups of coffee yet to be drunk, in the hope of learning the true meaning of what my ethnic identity entailed.
The beauty of Istanbul cannot be denied. The cobblestone streets that trace the footprints of great sultans, buildings engineered by minds that are nothing less than genius, the awe inspiring, panoramic view of the Bosporus as the sun sets and splashes the sky with a pallet of red, orange, purple and blue which you soon learn will be covered with an array of twinkling lights on a good night. It doesn't take long for the magic of Istanbul to hypnotize you. But like all magic tricks it's an illusion to the bitterness of reality.
Coming from Australian culture where great emphasis is placed on fitness, I figured it was time to get moving again. It didn't take me long to learn that going to a gym was considered a luxury in Turkey. In between getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic and investing long hours into work, people have little time for the finer things in life.
In an attempt to bring familiarity to my life I found the closest gym to my home. Ortakoy "United Clubs" Fitness Center. "I'd like to hear more about your gym" I uttered in my broken Turkish, my voiced filled with energy. The gentleman who stood firmly behind his desk gripped his pen a little tighter than necessary. "Please fill out your details here while someone comes to help you," he responded firmly as he pushed forward a sheet of questions that I felt required everything but my thumb print. We stood awkwardly in silence as I read the plaques on the wall, "spa, swimming pool, squash court."
I thought of home and all my workout friends.
"Hi, I'm Alanur and I'd like to know more about this gym," I said, ready to follow him as he showed me around.
"Ah, sure. There is just one problem"
I waited for him to continue. "We don't accept hijab," he blurted abruptly.
I was sure I had misheard, for something as preposterous and ignorant as this couldn't have just hurled out of his mouth so comfortably. "Pardon me?" "I'm so sorry ma'am but we don't accept covered women."
I stood there feeling tazered. A chill ran down my spine as I felt buckets of ice bring me to life but left me gasping for air. How was this possible?
How did this man feel as though he openly had the right to discriminate against me? I knew too well that Turkey had experienced a dark political point in 1997 with the military coup. Women in government offices, hospitals, universities and schools were physically forced out of position if they didn't comply with the ban. This oppression on faith which had become the instrument of control was disguised under the banner of modernity.
A long and arduous process saw these regulations change in 2002. The new Turkey saw that all this was in the past and Turkey has made significant progress in providing women the freedom to believe and the right to express it through the way they dress. I was proof of this. As an editor of a newspaper, I work side by side with other women, like myself, who choose to express their faith through their dress code. So I knew too well this was not the Turkey I live in now. Women wearing the headscarf are back in clinics and hospitals practicing medicine. Young girls are back at university and every other sector of the workforce. However, there are still lingering vestiges of ignorance where a few feel the need to express their imaginary superiority through restricting others' rights. It is a few individuals and private businesses that stubbornly insist on keeping a narrow minded view of life. Their selfsatisfied display of ignorance shows us there are still significant roadblocks to progress and how much more needs to be done. Perhaps it is time to follow the lead of countries that protect their citizens and introduce toughers laws protecting individuals from discrimination.
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