Women’s bodies, and therefore our clothes, are consistently under global scrutiny. How we chose to dress may or may not reflect our political or religious views; whatever we choose to wear is continuously watched, discussed and judged. Arguably, women in Islamic communities get hit especially hard with that judgement part. If and how a woman chooses to veil is up for international religious, social, and political debate.
As Americans, we’re exposed to a lot of prejudices, and it’s hard to remember that within Middle Eastern countries, there’s a lot of diversity in female religious and secular dress. There’s no one way in which women prefer to or are expected to dress, and a recent study by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research really drives that point home.
Researchers conducted surveys in Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, asking both male and female participants how they would prefer women to dress. People chose one of six general types of dress, ranging from most to least conservative: the burqa (1), the niqab (2), the chador (3), the al-amira (4), the basic head scarf (5), and no hijab at all (6). This helpful chart by the Pew Research Center details the responses.
As you can see, there’s a vast diversity across boarders. While citizens of Lebanon, Turkey, and Tunisia are more likely to find secular dress appropriate, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia lean towards more conservative veiling.
Another set of numbers generated by the study that is perhaps even more fascinating is the percentages of people in each country who feel that women should have a right to choose their dress. Discouragingly, the very highest of this numbers is only 52%. It’s also important to note that countries that find conservative attire more appropriate do not necessarily believe that women shouldn’t have the right to dress how they wish (check out Saudi Arabia). As The Washington Post’s Max Fisher writes, “Piety and feminism are not necessarily mutually exclusive forces.”
Thanks to The Washington Post and Buzzfeed
Images via The Washington Post and Buzzfeed