The Turkish parliament must decide whether women have the right to wear hijabs in public service, schools and universities. If parliamentarians can’t agree, the issue will be put to a referendum, the country’s president said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan instructed the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to submit amendments to the Constitution, including the right to wear the hijab in schools, universities and state institutions, to the parliament for discussion, BBC Turk reported. He also did not rule out holding a referendum on the issue.

“We hope that our proposal for an amendment to the constitution will pass. If it does not, we are ready to take other steps, including a referendum. If we do not get the necessary majority in parliament, our people will have the last word,” Erdoğan said.

The amendments on the right to wear the hijab would amend Articles 10 and 24 of the Constitution.

Article 24 of the Constitution, titled “Freedom of Religion and Conscience,” is proposed to be amended to say that no one can be discriminated against in education and work life because of their choice of clothing.  The wording would be clarified in Article 10 to guarantee equality before the law to both the recipient and the provider of a public service.

The ban on men wearing the traditional headwear of the Ottoman Empire dates back to Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, and after the 1980 coup d’état, the military government issued a series of decrees prohibiting women in the public sector and secondary school students from wearing turbans and hijabs. In the 1990s, the ban was extended to university students, leading to mass protests.

In February 2008, at the instigation of the Justice and Development Party, the parliament passed amendments that allowed women to wear hijabs at universities, but the Constitutional Court ruled that this contradicts the Basic Law of Turkey, which states that Turkey is a secular state.

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