How should a woman dress in public? That's the question presented by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research to residents of primarily Muslim countries.

Respondents from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Turkey were shown six styles of women’s headdress and asked which one was most appropriate. The styles ranged from the full burqa, popular in Afghanistan, to no headdress, preferred by secular women.

The Pew Research Center used UM's data to construct a helpful chart:

It’s clear that most countries preferred woman number 4, a modern headdress worn by Muslim women primarily in Iran and Turkey. The full burqa was the least preferred.

Lebanon, Tunisia and Turkey were the most liberal, with all three showing at least 15-percent support for no headdress at all.

The report found almost no connection between a country’s level of development and its attitudes toward women’s dress. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is one of the most economically developed countries in the region but preferred women to be fully covered except for their eyes.

“Rather, it reflects a country’s orientations toward liberal values as well as the level of freedom people enjoy,” the report said.

The report also found that attitudes toward other gender issues are shifting, a trend the study’s authors attribute to the Arab Spring revolutions and low popularity for Islamist governments.

The report mentions the rise of women’s rights in Muslim countries during the first half of the 20th century and the subsequent downfall of rights in the latter half of the century, primarily due to Islamic fundamentalist movements.

“They rejected the idea of gender equality and defended gender segregation and the institution of male domination in the family, politics, and labor market,” the report said. “In places like Saudi Arabia and Iran under the Islamic Republic, women are reduced to second-class citizens.”

The report gauged attitudes toward polygamy, wife obedience, women’s involvement in politics, women’s access to education and women in the workforce, and found some rather surprising responses.


Respondents overwhelmingly disagreed with the practice of polygamy, the idea that a man could have more than one wife.

“That is, 70 percent of Egyptians, 52 percent of Iraqis, 71 percent of Lebanese, 75 percent of Pakistanis, 51 percent of Saudis, 81 percent of Tunisians and 93 percent of Turkish citizens either strongly disagree or disagree with the statement that ‘it is acceptable for a man to have more than one wife,' " the report found.

Wife obedience

While most respondents believed polygamy was wrong, they did believe that “a wife must always obey her husband.”

“That is, 5 percent of Egyptians, 11 percent of Iraqis, 38 percent of Lebanese, 8 percent of Pakistanis, 21 percent of Saudis, 22 percent of Tunisians and 30 percent of Turkish citizens either disagree or strongly disagree with the statement,” the report said.

Women in politics

More respondents believe women make good political leaders than believe a woman’s place is to obey her husband.

“Accordingly, the percentage who strongly disagree or disagree that ‘men make better political leaders than women do’ is 17 percent among Egyptians, 24 percent among Iraqis, 44 percent among Lebanese, 29 percent among Pakistanis, 21 percent among Saudis, 45 percent among Tunisians and 46 percent among Turkish citizens,” the report said.

Women’s access to a university education

Attitude’s toward women’s right to pursue a university education fell closely in line with attitudes toward polygamy, with broad majorities disagreeing with the statement that “university education is more important for boys than it is for girls.”

Other than Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, "Fully 65 percent of Egyptians, 72 percent of Iraqis, 74 percent of Lebanese, 80 percent of Tunisians and 71 percent of Turkish citizens do not support gender inequality with regards to education,” the report said.

Women in the workforce

Despite the acceptance of women in politics and universities, respondents still believe that “men should have more right to a job than women.”

Just “14 percent of Egyptians, 21 percent of Iraqis, 33 percent of Lebanese, 15 percent of Pakistanis, 22 percent of Saudis, 27 percent of Tunisians and 44 percent of Turkish citizens” disagreed with that statement.

The report shows that some progress has been made to reduce gender inequality in Muslim countries, but more work needs to be done.