Purdah, literally meaning screen or veil, is the practice of shielding women from the eyes of men. The custom traditionally exists in Islamic cultures but is also practiced by some Hindu women in parts of India, it was widespread throughout the British rule of India but it is gradually decreasing. The practice can take two forms, the physical segregation of male (Mardana) and female (Zenana) chambers using screens and curtains erected within the home, and the wearing of concealing clothing from head to toe when outside.
While it is not strictly a religious practice, in Islamic communities Purdah is a cultural tradition closely linked to the ethical concept of Namus, a gender specific expression of honor and respectability.
The practice has come under much criticism, especially since the rise of the Women’s Movement, claiming it shuts women off from the outside world making them ignorant of the practicalities of life. However those who engage in Purdah, see it as an act of dignity, by covering themselves, women fell they are not looked at as sex objects that can be dominated.
A discussion of the role of Purdah in Islam