Personal Identity

Historically, the terms veils, veiled, and veiling are associated with gendered and generational status. Though not the exclusive domain of women, as an article of dress, veils are associated with "being" female. They are typically draped fabric or head and/or body coverings that are generally the clothing or adornment form worn to differentiate female gender identity from males. Whether self-imposed or otherwise, customs associated with being female vary across cultures. For example, women in "western" cultures seldom wear veils while men rarely will wear them. In contrast, in the Middle East, men and women may frequently wear similarly draped garments that cover their heads, upper and lower bodies, but women may distinguish themselves by covering a portion of their face to conceal their identity in more public spaces. The abaya is one such example that is worn in many Arabic-speaking countries. Other examples, more culturally specific in historically Persian cultures are the chador worn in Iran and the chaadar worn in Afghanistan.

Age-related use of veils, veiled, and veiling practices across cultures frequently defines the transitions between stages of the female life cycle that reference physiological development and change as it relates to social status. One critical period is between youth and puberty. Veils, veiled, and veiling are often synonymous with the notion of symbolic space and specific rites of passage such as during puberty and coming of age ceremonies. Young Afghan girls begin wearing chaadars, veils, or head coverings to signal their change in status from a young nonmenstruating girl to a menstruating young woman, a young woman who is now of marriageable age. They may even wear them "prematurely" to appear more mature than their physiological development or chronological age.

The dupatta worn by Pakistani and Indian women also are gendered and generational examples of head coverings worn by young women on the Asian subcontinent. Few women would venture in public without one, and when traveling abroad the dupatta is still worn with either indigenous or local dress. The dupatta in these instances may be shawl- or scarf-like, a draped two-dimensional form.

Somali women wear a variety of head coverings or veils that differentiate the gender and age of the wearer. A khaamar, a scarf-like item, is worn singularly or in combination with a shawl-like garment or gaarbo saar. A more religious head covering is hijab, and the most religious form is the nikaab, which completely conceals the entire face except for the eyes.

In direct contrast to Arab custom, Tuareg men from Algeria, rather than women, wear veils. However, they often leave their face uncovered when they travel or are with their family.

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