In her proposal published this week, 15-year-old Rayouf Alhumedhi demanded increased diversity in our emoji including a woman in a headscarf. The teen from Berlin wrote to the United Consortium after designing her own headscarf-adorned woman emoji, calling for it to be included in our smartphone dictionary. The campaign, which is going viral, aims to challenge the problem of diversity among the emoji language. With the code of smiley faces becoming a standard text reply, emoji have surpassed being merely amusing — they matter.
In her proposal, Alhumedhi noted that a significant chunk of the world's population wears the hijab and that this group, currently not represented in the world of emoji, deserves better. "In the age of digitalization, pictures prove to be a crucial element in communication," the proposal states. "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."
The emoji language has been criticized for neglecting its representation when it comes to minority cultures, religious groups and women. And while there is no woman in a headscarf, there is a man in a turban.
Her proposal brings up an important point of how emoji are not just modes of communication online, but are representational factors of people and lifestyles. In addition to her proposal, which is co-authored by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and journalist and member of Unicode's emoji subcommittee, Jennifer Lee.
Alhumedhi hosted a Reddit conversation online on the need for more representation in the emoji sphere. When asked on the personal importance of wearing a hijab, Alhumedhi said:
I enjoy having the power to control what I choose to show to the world. People, undoubtedly, look at me differently. And they usually are curious. I enjoy answering their questions and teaching them about it. The headscarf gives me power.
The call for a headscarf emoji comes at a precarious moment in the European debate on religion, multiculturalism and women's rights going on right now. In the past few months, Muslim women in France were first banned from wearing a burkini, only to be overturned due to the international outrage it incited. Last month, Germany called for more restrictions on the religious face veil in educational settings, following in France's footsteps.
The breadth of diversity — including a lack of skin color choices — in the emoji keyboard has been questioned before and this probably won't be the last. In March, Amy Butcher, in her op-ed Emoji Feminism in the New York Times, inspired another proposal that asked for increased representation of women in the workforce. According to the proposal, women are in fact the most frequent emoji users and so equality (even in emoji form) is worth demanding.