50 Operational Hijab Design
For creating a hijab that improves job performance—and boosts inclusion
For many Muslim policewomen, a hijab is a fundamental part of their uniform. Yet without headgear specifically made for use in the line of duty, many women made do with improvised solutions—which meant that they didn’t always feel welcome. For the New Zealand Police in Christchurch, the issue took on added import in the aftermath of the deadly 2019 mosque shootings—forcing the department to rethink inclusion in its own ranks.
"There was a part of our community we inadvertently had locked out from serving," said Inspector Braydon Lenihan, operations manager of the New Zealand Police’s national response and operations work group. "To be a true police service for the community we serve, we have to represent that community. To have a section of our community not be able to join us because of the dress code just didn’t feel right."
The department collaborated with the Nga Pae Mahutonga Wellington School of Design at Massey University to develop a fit-for-purpose hijab. Over 16 months, the team iterated extensively while staying true to strict project specs: The hijab had to be comfortable during long shifts, provide a clear field of vision, and not interfere with driving or using a firearm.
New recruit Constable Zeena Ali—a Muslim woman who decided to join the New Zealand Police after the Christchurch attacks—wore prototypes during her training, with her feedback used to shape the final version. Officers often wear an earpiece, for example, so the team adapted the hijab design. And because traditional fabric wrapped around the neck could present a choking hazard, the hijab includes magnetic fastenings that can easily release during an altercation.
The project was completed in November 2020—and Ali became the first officer to wear the official hijab.
"Doing something like this could have been very polarizing. The fact that it’s been normalized so quickly is the positive I take out of this," Lenihan said. "It’s just another uniform, it’s just another piece of clothing, and Zeena is just another New Zealand police officer."