Rayouf Alhumedhi and the Hijab Emoji

In Muslim culture alone, 550 million women wear hijabs, and yet when I type it, I still see a red squiggly line. In the same way, emojis of people wearing them are curiously absent from most keyboards. On WhatsApp, in particular, users are encouraged to use emojis as little avatars, but no hijab option is available.

This is what triggered 15-year-old German student Rayouf Alhumendhi to investigate further. She had tried to find an emoji to accurately represent her on a group chat with her friends, and finding nothing available, she emailed Apple's customer support. After that didn't work, she turned to the Unicode Consortium, the governing body for the development of emojis (yes, that's actually a thing).

Unicode did respond, and they offered to help her develop a proposal to get the emoji introduced. The document, which worked out at a whopping 7 pages (a big deal for a 15 year old), detailed the history of the garment, its prevalence across the world and where it would likely be used most.

The proposal hasn't been submitted yet, it's being redrafted, but given the attention it's already received (including sponsorship from Reddit's Alex Ohanian), it seems highly unlikely that it'll be rejected. There's no doubt that this is a big step, and another way of addressing the ongoing issue of cultural imbalance online.

Muslims aren't the only group to be underrepresented, last year Apple introduced a set of same sex  family emojis, and the previous November the Unicode Consortium drafted the first set of skin tone gradients. It would be nice to think that such diversity would have been standard with emojis from the outset, but sadly the world doesn't work that way.

Steps like these may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but with so much of modern life being shone through the filter of social media, especially young life, it can play a key role in the way children regard other cultures, and accept them.

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