Purdah is a highly controversial subject, and includes many different interpretations and definitions from scholars and experts around the world. Purdah falls into two inter-woven categories. On one side is the requirement for women to cover their bodies and conceal their form. The other side is physical segregation, involving the isolation of the sexes e.g. at prayer, in associating in public, and even through the use of screened off areas within homes where other men are not allowed. This paper looks at the concept and perception of purdah and its practice in a typical Islamic setting of Northern Nigeria. The paper makes a holistic appraisal of existing literature, both academic and religious, to bring to bare the implication of meanings and interpretations of purdah based on cultural and religious practices, and to show how its practice has impacted on the women in the region.
The paper finds that purdah impacts on women in the region is a number of ways. Women are commonly denied inheritance rights, and do not have access to land and other means of production. Purdah also impacts women’s economic empowerment; as banks in Nigeria insist on getting collateral in advance of any business loan, women cannot access bank loans to start businesses. Even many of the intervention programmes introduced by the government and aimed at the empowerment of the less privileged members of the society have not impacted positively on women’s lives. The author concludes that purdah has secluded and excluded women from the social, economic and political activities in society, thereby confirming their second class status. The institution of purdah can therefore be seen to be inimical to the progress and development of the women in Northern Nigeria. Furthermore, the exploitative tendencies of purdah has put the women in such a precarious position that they lack the wherewithal to demand for, let alone get, equal rights with men.