Strictly speaking, the burqa is the body covering, whereas the head cover is the niqab, or face-veil. The sky-blue burqa popularized in Afghanistan has come to symbolize, in Western eyes, repressive interpretations of Islam and the backward treatment of women in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Women who willingly identify themselves as pious Muslims wear the garment by choice. But many women in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, where traditional norms or Taliban edicts override personal choice, do so without a say.
The burqa is one of many variations of the full-body covering. In Iran, a similar full-body covering is known as the chador. In North Africa, women wear a djellaba or an abaya with a niqaab. The result is the same: the full body is cloaked. But the clothing is distinct nevertheless.
In 2009, French President Nicolas Sarkozy lent his support to a proposal to ban the wearing of the burqa or the niqab in public in France, even though an investigation by French authorities found that all of 367 women wore the garment in all of France. Sarkozy's stance against the burqa was the latest in a string of reactions, in Europe and parts of the Middle East (including Turkey and Egypt, where a leading cleric banned the niqab), against full-body coverings either imposed on women or worn on the assumption that the clothing abides by Islamic precepts.
In fact, the Koran does not require the wearing either of face veils or of full-body cloaks.