Earlier this year, Rayouf Alhumedhi, a 15-year-old student in Berlin, Germany, was trying to start a group chat on WhatsApp with her friends when she realized something important was missing.
Her friends decided to title the group chat by using an emoji that represented each of their faces. Her friends picked their hair and skin colors and created cartoonish likenesses of themselves. For Alhumedhi, who wears a hijab headscarf, this wasn't so easy. Though emoji has options for turbans, detective fedoras, police officer caps, and jolly red Santa hats, there's no option for the traditional headscarf worn by 550 million Muslim women alone.
So Alhumedhi took matters into her own hands.
Unsure of what to do, Alhumedhi wrote a long email to Apple's customer help but didn't hear back. A few months later, though, she stumbled on a Mashable explainer about the Unicode Consortium, the technical organization that governs the evolution of emojis and handles new proposals.
"I honestly didn’t know what to expect and kind of couldn't believe they'd see it or even talk about it — all I wrote was a short paragraph," Alhumedhi told BuzzFeed News.
But Unicode was intrigued. With the help of an emoji subcommittee member, Alhumedhi was shown how to create a formal emoji proposal and quickly drafted a detailed seven-page document, complete with usage examples and a history of the headscarf in popular society. “The most I’ve written are lab reports at school, so this was really a new experience for me,” she said. “But I had some help and followed the structure of other good proposals.”
An excerpt from the proposal:
* As of 08/26/2016, when typing “hijab” into the tags search bar on Instagram, you will receive 15.6 million photos. On the other hand, searching for “turban” you will receive 732,000 photos.
* Usage of this emoji will be predominantly in Muslim countries. This includes Indonesia, the fourth most populous country in the world, where the Muslim population is 202 million. In Egypt, the 15th most populous country in the world, the percentage of women wearing headscarves is 90%.
The proposal caught the eye of Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who has sponsored it and is helping Alhumedhi host a Reddit AMA to drum up support for the potential emoji today. There seems to be genuine interest from the outside as well; it already been requested over 100 times on the site EmojiRequest.com.
Alhumedhi plans to submit the proposal to Unicode soon; currently, she’s tweaking the proposal based on feedback she received from emoji subcommittee members. But given the help she’s received from the subcommittee, there’s little doubt it’ll be given very serious attention.
“I feel like it would be a huge achievement,” Alhumedhi told BuzzFeed News of the possibility that her proposal could someday find its way to millions of people’s phones around the world. “Five hundred and fifty million women pride themselves in wearing a headscarf — and it’s not just Muslims, but Orthodox Jews and Christians, too. That there could be something to represent them — that this image could be given to people all around the world — it’s amazing and incredible if I could be the person to help do that."
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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