Unveiling the effects of a headscarf ban: Evidence from municipal jobs in Turkey
Religious conservatism is often associated with patriarchal attitudes and deterioration of women's rights. This conventional wisdom has motivated ubiquitous policies that limit public expressions of religion and emphasize secular values. This paper demonstrates that a policy change which undermines secularity ends up empowering women. The current article takes advantage of a unique divergence in political institutions that occurred in Turkey's recent history to explore how revoking a headscarf ban affected employment outcomes of women in the public sector. In a difference-in-discontinuities setting, I exploit the before/after discontinuous policy variation and compare female employment within municipalities that have Islamist and secular mayors. I find that eliminating legal obstacles against observant Muslim women in the labor market improves female employment in Islamist municipalities. Yet, when women are not allowed to wear headscarves to work, Islamist mayors employ less women vis-à-vis secular mayors. Overall, findings point to unintended consequences of headscarf bans on pious women.