Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Social and Political Studies Seminar Series
HEADSCARVES AND MODERNITY REVISITED:
WORK AND FITRAT IN THE AGE OF NEO-LIBERALISM
Department of Political Science
This paper explores the multifaceted relationship between modernity and headscarves in the age of neo-liberalism by contextualizing the experiences of pious women in the retail sector exploring the nexus between market, family and Islam in contemporary Turkey. Based on focus groups and in-depth interviews this study argues that pious working women’s world views are primarily shaped by a particular modern Islamic discourse which prioritizes and values women’s traditional gender roles as wives and mothers, and trivializes women’s labor force participation. This discourse which justifies the gendered division of labor in the family is reconstructed around the notion of fitrat (gendered nature) - a belief that God created women’s and men’s nature differently and that women are primarily created for mothering, care and compassion. Therefore it is in the pious women’s nature and calling that they would live according to their nature. This orientation is expected to protect the woman in the workplace; to the contrary, it justifies different forms of gender discrimination and harassment. Valuing women’s unpaid work in the family and creating a desire among working women to return to their homes where they believe they belong discourages women from participating in the labor force in the long term, which is in line with neo-liberal policies towards gender equality and family values. In general, this orientation not only partly explains low female labor force participation in Turkey, but also reinforces temporary and precarious employment prospects for young women. Hence the paper concludes that pious sales women’s Islamic world views regarding their gender roles are in ultimate congruence with the discriminatory market forces and relations on the one hand, and traditional and patriarchal family structures in contemporary Turkey on the other.