Study looks at perceptions of the hijab among female Muslims
Women in the UAE who wear the hijab consider non-hijab wearers less attractive, less intelligent and less employable, a study into attitudes towards the headscarf has found, writes Sean O'Driscoll...
The findings were revealed after 303 women in the US and UAE were surveyed. Those quizzed included hijab wearers and women who did not wear a headscarf, in a study designed to help researchers learn more about perceptions of women who wear the hijab.
The participants were shown photographs of women with and without headscarf and were asked to rate them on how intelligent, employable and attractive they appeared.
Those who wear the garment considered the women in the pictures wearing a headscarf to be more intelligent looking. Those women who did not wear a headscarf did not see any difference in terms of intelligence between the two groups when shown the photographs.
The dissertation by Abu Dhabi-based psychologist, Dr Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi, explores what the headscarf means to women of different backgrounds.
She studied only Muslim women of South Asian background in the US and in the UAE. Sixty per cent of those quizzed were born in Pakistan, 16.8 per cent were born in the UAE to South Asian families and seven per cent were born in Bangladesh. Of the 129 UAE-based women in the study, 77 wore the hijab and 52 did not.
UAE-based women who wear the hijab and rated the photos, felt the subjects pictured in hijabs were more employable, while it was the opposite for non-hijab wearers in the UAE - they rated women in the photos who hid their hair as less employable.
All of the women questioned said that the greatest discrimination over their choice of headdress came from within their own communities. Dr Pasha-Zaidi completed the study as part of her degree at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in the US and she now teaches in the UAE.
She also found that wearing a headscarf helps identify women as part of a group. Women who wore it said they see it as a powerful indicator that another woman is part of their “in group”.
Speaking about the perception that women in a hijab could be overlooked for jobs, Dr Pasha-Zaidi said: “This is a particularly disturbing perception as it may negatively affect the self-esteem of Muslim women who wear the hijab and are interested in entering the workforce, especially among the younger generations.
“If nothing else, this perception creates an added stress for hijabis who are seeking employment.” She told 7DAYS she found it interesting that, despite their differences, Muslim women will support the hijab, especially if they think someone is criticising it.
“Muslim women are protective of the hijab because it is one of the public faces of Islam,” Dr Pasha-Zaidi added. “Religion seems to play an important part in this. Muslim women who rate themselves high in religiosity, regardless of whether they wear hijab or not, rate non-hijabis as less attractive.”
So what do Muslim women in the UAE think?
Maryam Ellaham, originally from Spain, wears the hijab and agrees that it can lead to workplace discrimination in the West. She added: “I have had a long history of this. Employers in Spain think of me very differently for wearing it.
“However, as I grew up in Spain, most of my friends didn’t wear it and it made no difference to them.”
Dania Ibrahim, originally from Syria, doesn’t wear a hijab and said she would not fear discrimination if interviewed for a job by an employer in a hijab. She said: “In Syria, we are used to both. Some women wear it, some don’t. It is simply a personal choice for the woman.”