Hijab is a head-covering that many Muslim women wear for a variety of reasons. They believe that God has instructed them to wear it, and do so as a means of fulfilling his commandment for modesty, or to visibly express their Muslim identity.
And while in some places women are forced to wear it, the majority of women wearing hijab do so by their own choice.
Today, wearing of the hijab is sometimes used to challenge Western feminist discourses which present hijab-wearing women as oppressed or silenced.
Muslim in US:
Islam is currently the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity, and is the fastest-growing major religion. If current demographic trends continue, the number of Muslims is expected to exceed the number of Christians by the end of this century.
In the US, Muslims are a fast-growing segment of the population. By the year 2050, Muslims will make up 2.1% of the US population, surpassing people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion as the second-largest faith group in the country.
After all the research, we identified the problem for Hjiab wearing women is: The narrative of hijab is being misrepresented to the American mainstream, causing negative perceptions and social attitudes towards the women who choose to wear it.
This is how The Guardian newspaper showed the Iranian elections in 2016 VS. Iranian women present at the very same election shared pictures of themselves
And this is a problem because in the US, there is a growing number of women wearing hijab.
We talk to 20 women who wear hijab and their friends try to understand their struggle better. We found out:
Women who wear hijab
They all believed that the idea of hijab representing the oppression of women is from a western perspective not from a Muslim woman’s perspective. People who see them as victims are “forcing” them to take their hijab off. For many women in the US, wearing hijab is actually a statement about how they can make their own choice.
Many of the women we spoke with also felt that their personal qualities were being overlooked, because people only see the scarf and the stereotype that it symbolizes.
At first they all feel these women are distance and unapproachable. They are not sure what they say might offended them.
They all assume these women are shy and don't like to talk to stranger.
They all curious about the hijab, but wasn’t sure if it would be ok to approach them and ask what it was and what they mean
In further examining the discourse from the Muslim women's perspective, and that of the western media, we identified a dichotomy.
History of Hijab:
Through all the research we did, we realize hijab is a piece of clothes the being politicized by the western media. In order to understand how hijab became a political symbol, we starting looking into its history. We found two crucial turning points.
First on is at the turn of the 19th century, British Colonial thought notion that hijab is a backwards practice, and people started to see veiled women as oppressed.
The second point is the 9/11 attacks in New York. In a radio address by First Lady Laura Bush, she painted the “war on terror” as a fight against the oppression of women. This opened up a Pandora’s box for the negative political image, and people began targeting Muslim communities. Women wearing hijab became an easy target.
In person testing:
After all the articles and statistics we found, we wanted to understand this issue by experiencing it ourselves. We wanted see first hand what it would be like to walk around New York wearing hijab.
And while we did notice people staring, nobody actually spoke to us. This told us that we would have to be the ones starting the conversation.
After we draw out the user journey, we identified the pain point of the problem: there is a communication gap between muslim women and Western Public.
How can we get women to stand up and share that wearing their hijab comes from a position of strength, not weakness, in order to reclaim the image of hijab today?
We designed a series of items our users could wear or carry saying “My hijab, my choice”.And a set of cards that the user could hand out to people whenever she feels they are judging her by her scarf.
What we found was that:
- Our users didn’t want to be tied to wearing a specific article of clothing that might not fit into their personal style, or their outfit for the day.
We also realized that even though they really wanted to share their perspective, they didn’t feel comfortable confronting people with our cards. Specially when there was no prior conversation between them.
Additionally, Once the card was given to the other person, the interaction was over. It didn’t generate further discussion that we were hoping for.
Overall, these ideas failed to address the broken connection between our users and people around them.
We went into our first prototype thinking about making a bold statement. And left thinking that maybe what we needed is more of an invitation
Through our experiences, and the feedback we got from our testers, we identify that college students who wearing hijab will be a better entry point since campuses are already good environments to have open conversation.
So for our further testing, we teamed up with the Muslim Student Association at Hunter College.
We starting to explore ways to share their perspectives--their stories-- in a less confrontational way.
Through the research, we found out we need to design a visible item that invites open conversations, while being convenient enough for our users to carry with them all the time.
So that women can showing their friendly intention without confronting people, and give them a chance to share their perspectives and reclaim the image of hijab today.
We started testing a tote bag that prompts people to ask about hijab. We had our testers carry it around New York and report back with their observations.
We choose tote bag is because:
1. It's easy to carry and with a useful function
2. With the eye-catching Logo, it will promotes a conversation with the people who curious the problem
3. Women don't need to confronting people, instead of they are showing people they are invite the conversation.
We made a hypothesis that how the tote bag works:
After we testing out the tote bag, some of our users experienced nervousness at the thought of strangers randomly approaching them. We learned that even though most of our users know what they want to say, they still need help preparing for the conversation. So we decide helping them prepared their story by making a video. And creating a story chain on social media.
The purpose of the website:
1. The mission of the project
2. Giveaway/Selling the tote bag
3. Sharing the story about interaction experience with the people who asked them about hijab in order to more people to share the story or to get the bag. We will provide them with a collection of videos of users talking about their hijab, to find strength and inspiration through the stories of others on our website.
After testing with users, we realized that what our users really wanted was to be able to interact with each other and non-muslim people. Creating conversation about the hijab.
So we began to explore Facebook as a platform our users already use, in order to make the interaction more fluid.
The facebook community page made communicating with our users easier, and gave them a place to share their experiences.
How the system works
We will collaborate with Muslim Student Organizations to design workshops that better prepare students to have these conversation and make the video, so we can ease some of the nervousness they experienced. And through these women we can create a network helping them filling the communication gap between western public and women who wearing hajab
One of the times we were meeting with Shifa - a hunter college student on her campus, a classmate of hers passed by and noticed her bag. He was curious and approached to ask what hijab is really about for her.
He shared that he once traveled to the Morocco, and for the first time encountered people walking around in hijab, but wasn’t sure if it would be ok to approach them and ask what it is.
She told him about how Hijab is something She does to spiritually get closer to her god, and how by wearing her hijab, she is also consciously fighting against the stereotype of being oppressed, by showing the world that she can do anything while wearing it.
He was happy to find this opportunity to ask his classmate, knowing that she would be open to answering his questions.
Through using a simple tote bag, we can bridge this gap, helping them spread their stories outside their community, in order to have a more accepting world.
If one women can generate 2 conversation while carrying her tote bag, then through these two conversations, more people will hear the story about the hijab. By sharing with her friends, and friends of her friends, she can spread the truth about hijab. The whole media will be influenced.
Having conversations is just the beginning for people to learn about muslim women. What if everyone starts to communicate, instead of assuming or guessing?
We believe we could reclaim hijab from the negative representations in the media, and share the perspectives of the women who choose to wear it .