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MIDEAST > Majority in Mideast prefer women to wear headscarves: Survey

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Women shop at Al Ataba, a popular market in downtown Cairo. REUTERS photo

Women shop at Al Ataba, a popular market in downtown Cairo. REUTERS photo

A recent survey conducted in seven Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey, finds that most people prefer that a woman completely covers her hair, but not necessarily her face. 

Only in Turkey and Lebanon do more than 25 percent think it is appropriate for a woman to not cover her head at all in public, a survey conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research on behalf of the U.S.-based Pew Research Center showed.

The survey treated the question of women’s dress as a visual preference. Each respondent was given a card depicting six styles of women’s headdress and asked to choose the woman most appropriately outfitted for a public place. Although no labels were included on the card, the styles ranged from a full burqa (woman #1), niqab (#2) and chador (#3) to different headscarves (women #4 and #5). There was also the option of a woman wearing no head covering of any type.

Overall, most respondents say woman #4, whose hair and ears are completely covered by a white hijab, is the most appropriately dressed for public. This includes 57 percent in Tunisia, 52 percent in
Egypt, 46 percent in Turkey and 44 percent in Iraq. In Iraq and Egypt, woman #3, whose hair and ears are covered by the chador, is the second most popular choice.

HDN

The survey was conducted by the University of Michigan’s
Institute for Social Research on behalf of the U.S.-based
Pew Research Center.

In Pakistan, there is an even split (31 percent vs. 32 percent) between woman #3 and woman #2, who is wearing a niqab that exposes only her eyes, while nearly a quarter (24 percent) choose woman #4. In Saudi Arabia, a 63 percent-majority prefer woman #2, while an additional 11 percent say that the burqa worn by woman #1 was the most appropriate style of public dress for women.

A total of 3,019 people were asked to respond to questions between April and June 2013, but only 62 percent gave answer to the survey.

In several countries, substantial minorities say it is acceptable for a woman to not cover her hair in public. Roughly a third (32 percent) of Turks take this view, as do 15 percent of Tunisians. Nearly half (49 percent) in Lebanon also agree that it is acceptable for a woman to appear in public without a head covering, although this may partly reflect the fact that the sample in Lebanon was 27 percent Christian. Demographic information, including results by gender, were not included in the public release of the survey.

Even as publics in many of the surveyed countries express a clear preference for women to dress conservatively, many also say women should be able to decide for themselves what to wear. This attitude is most prevalent in Tunisia (56 percent), Turkey (52 percent) and Lebanon (49 percent). But nearly as many in Saudi Arabia (47 percent) also say a women should be free to choose how she dresses. Smaller, but sizable percentages agree in Iraq (27 percent), Pakistan (22 percent) and Egypt (14 percent). 

Linking dress and modernity 'difficult'

“Based on these findings, it would be hard to connect women’s style of dress on the aggregate level to a country’s level of development and modernity,” the report said.

“Saudi Arabia, which is economically more developed, is most conservative in terms of women’s style of dress. Rather, it reflects a country’s orientations toward liberal values as well as the level of freedom people enjoy. In Lebanon, Tunisia, and Turkey, where people tend to be less conservative than the other four countries, the preferable style for women also tend to be much less conservative than the other four countries,” it said.

What the survey leaves unanswered is whether respondents think social or cultural norms will guide women in their choice to wear more conservative or less conservative attire in public.

January/10/2014

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