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Turkey's Code of Conduct for Women Sparks Controversy


Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet, has sparked a controversy in a declaration on how women should behave in public life. The Diyanet, which controls the Muslim faith in Turkey, has, as Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul, been sharply criticized by women's groups and supporters of the secular state.

In a website declaration, Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, the Diyanet, has given a long list of do's and don'ts on how women should behave in public life.

Among the most controversial are directives saying women should not wear perfume in public and that they should not be alone with men.

In the heart of Istanbul, there was general disbelief among women.

This response was typical

"It is really unbelievable, but nobody is listening to them, especially in big cities, nobody. But it is strange, they are going more crazy everyday, and [I] do not believe [anybody] will stop because of this declaration, because it is stupid."

The woman speaking was wearing a short-sleeve T-shirt, to cope with hot weather. But according to the Diyanet that too is forbidden. It says women should always cover up.

While the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party does not directly control the Diyanet, observers say its declaration will add to growing concerns among supporters of secularism about the direction the country is moving. The ruling party is facing closure by the country' s supreme court on charges of threatening the secular state.

The Diyanet's declaration, which has no legal authority, has once again revealed the deep polarization in Turkish society. Much of the religious press welcomed the measures, but the secular media strongly condemned them.

The Diyanet, which controls the Muslim faith in Turkey including the appointment of Imams, has in recent years been advocating progressive policies that include campaigning against the killing of women in the name of family honor.

Liz Amado of the Istanbul based Women for Women's rights fears the declaration is part of a worrying new trend,

"They do talk [about] girls education, they had to talk about honor killings," said Liz Amado. "But this past year we have been witnessing a more of a backlash in terms of approach and declarations against gender equality. Against things such as wearing perfume, [saying it] is sacrilegious or flirting is the same as adultery etcetera."

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan provoked anger from women's-rights groups when he repeatedly called for all married women to have at least three children.

According to observers, because the ruling party is facing closure, its leadership is increasingly courting its religious voter base. But such statements along with the Diyanet's declaration will probably only add to the deepening polarization in Turkish society.

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