A symbol of inequality? Arab Perceptions of the Veil

By Lars Berger
Submitted to Session P4975 (Women and Contemporary Politics, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Arab States;
Comparative; Gender/Women's Studies; Human Rights;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The question of what the veil represents has produced countless academic inquires and stirred much political debate. With existing research focusing mostly on the perception and framing of the veil among non-Muslims or on small-n investigations of possible motivations to veil among Muslim women, this paper aims to offer broad conclusions about the drivers of Muslim public support for the veil. Utilizing Arab Barometer data, it tests the empirical validity of claims that liberal Western representations of the veil misrepresent it as a symbol of inequality by ignoring its role as a symbol of female empowerment.
In doing so, this paper contributes to the growing body of literature which examines the factors that help determine public opinion on women’s rights and gender equality across the Arab and Muslim world as well as in comparison to other parts of the world. The analysis does not aim to contribute to ongoing debates over the attempts of governments around the world to regulate the various manifestations of
the veil. Instead, this paper lets Muslim Arab women and men speak for themselves. By shedding light on why some Arab Muslim women and men think that women should veil, this analysis highlights the wider social context in which Arab women decide whether or not to veil, particularly the role which religiosity and Islamist ideology as well as individual opinion on and structural measures of gender equality might play.