News - November 14, 2013

Single-sex student houses in Turkey

In the news: The Turkish prime minister Erdogan recently announced that he wanted to do away with mixed student accommodation. For boys and girls to live together doesn’t fit Turkey’s ‘conservative, democractic character,’ he said.
Commentary by Ceren Yüceçam, Turkish MSc student of Environmental Sciences.

‘Students in Turkey use the social media a lot; right now Erdogan’s statements are a hot topic in Facebook and Twitter. Students post photos of their houses, as a way of showing that they are normal places where nothing weird goes on. At the last elections Erdogan and his conservative Islamic party won about 50 percent of the votes. Many people support Erdogan because the Turkish economy has been growing fast since he came to power. We are almost a European country now. Or maybe even better because we have hardly been affected by the economic crisis. But in recent years, many people have felt that Erdogan wants to impose a certain way of life in them. And they are not happy about that. They see these sorts of measures as a threat to the secular state.

Religion and the state are separate in Turkey, but the boundaries are getting blurred. Until a couple of years ago, for instance, entering a government building wearing a headscarf was forbidden. Now a woman can just walk into a university in a headscarf. Some parties didn’t want that because they felt it didn’t go with a secular state. I am on the secular side but I don’t agree on all points. I am not happy with the secular party’s strong opposition to headscarves, for instance. I think that they should also consider the question of people’s freedom. If a woman who wears a headscarf wants to go to university, she should be able to. There needs to be a balance between freedom and religion, so that everyone in Turkey can live the way they want to: Kurds, Armenians, people with a religious conviction and people without one. What we need in Turkey now is empathy. You need to be able to imagine how other sections of the population feel.’

Photo: Turkish prime minister Erdogan