BERLIN: When 15-year-old Rayouf Alhumedhi scrolled through the extensive Emoji library on her smartphone keyboard, she could not decide on one which would best represent her or others like her who chose to wear a head scarf or hijab in their daily lives.
Instead of just selecting another feminine symbol, the teenager decided to take matters in her own hands.
Her initial decision was to write to Apple regarding her disappointment before deciding to directly contact Unicode Consortium — a non-profit corporation that oversees standards for symbols on keyboards. Alhumedhi designed and has forwarded a proposal to add symbols representing Muslim women wearing Hijab to the consortium, New York times reports.
While there are several humanoid emoji’s available for both the genders ─ in many different skin colors, facial expressions and actions ─ there are none which are sporting a head scarf or a ‘hijab’.
Both android and iOS have made an effort in recent years to be more inclusive in the emoji options they provide to users but Alhumedhi and her peers feel left out.
“In the age of digitalization, pictures prove to be a crucial element in communication,” the proposal says.
“Roughly 550 million Muslim women on this earth pride themselves on wearing the hijab. With this enormous number of people, not a single space on the keyboard is reserved for them.”
Alhumedhi was born in Saudi Arabia but now resides in Germany and has worn a hijab in accordance to her spiritual beliefs since she was 13 years old. She feels the clothing gives her more freedom of choice in deciding how much she wants to cover up and she fiercely debates against the idea that the hijab is a symbol of oppression for Muslim females.
Her proposal has found support in the tech community, where there is already a movement underway to improve female inclusion in the industry.
Along with immediate, high-visibility issues like sexism at work and the significant gender wage-gap, people are also starting to raise their voice against alienation of women in more subtle ways like a lack of professional female symbols in the most popular communication medium of the 21st century.
Jennifer 8. Lee, a former New York Times reporter and a member of the Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, helped the teenager draft her proposal. Now a co-author of the document, Lee encouraged Alhumedhi to discuss the history and importance of the hijab in her proposal.
The Hijab emojis are not just fighting for female visibility. They are also a step towards inclusion and representation for the average Muslim in the mainstream media.
With the recent debates against the ‘burkini’ swimsuit bans by France and the hostility faced by immigrants in Europe (where the women are often singled out by their head scarfs), ‘Hijabi’ emojis could provide a way for young Muslim girls to feel like they belong in the digital world.
Alhumedhi will be flying to the Bay Area in California to present a final version of her proposal to Unicode’s full technical committee in November.
In the mean time she is gathering support for her proposal from the internet community. On Sep 13, she engaged with users of popular site Reddit, answering questions about wearing the Hijab and challenging critics who oppose the article on grounds of female oppression.
“The head scarf allows for people to see past a woman’s beauty and see her for her knowledge.”