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Campaign calls for an emoji for women who wear head scarves

Muslim teenager calls for greater diversity in proposal to Unicode Consortium

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Emoji have become increasingly diverse over the years, but one group remains unrepresented on smartphone keyboards: women in head scarfs. A new campaign aims to change that.

In a proposal published this week, 15-year-old Rayouf Alhumedhi called on the Unicode Consortium to add an emoji of a woman wearing a head scarf, noting that around 550 million Muslim women wear the garment, known as a hijab, and that women of other religious backgrounds cover their hair, as well. Alhumedhi's proposal was co-authored by journalist Jennifer 8. Lee and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

"In the age of digitalization, pictures prove to be a crucial element in communication," the proposal reads. "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."

headscarf emoji

Alhumedhi's campaign marks the latest effort to broaden the range of emoji to better represent women and minorities. In May, a group of former Google employees created a set of 13 emoji showing women performing a range of professions, which they said would highlight "the diversity of women's careers and empowering girls everywhere." Unicode introduced emoji with a broader range of skin tones in 2015, and Apple's iOS 10 update includes female athletes and single-parent families.

Muslim fashion has been at the center of an ongoing debate in Europe this summer, after several cities in France banned the full-body burkini swimwear. Proponents of the French bans argued that the burkini violates the country's laws on secularism, with leading politicians describing the garment as a form of female "enslavement"; but critics viewed the bans as sexist and Islamophobic, saying they would only further stigmatize Muslim women. France's highest court overturned one town's ban late last month.

Similar debates over Muslim head coverings have played out in Germany, where Alhumedhi lives. In a Reddit AMA held on Wednesday, Alhumedhi defended her decision to wear the hijab and responded to critics who view the garment as a form of oppression.

"I would like to be represented and acknowledged," Alhumedhi wrote. "It might seem baffling, but when I wear the head scarf I actually feel liberated because I’m in control of what I want to cover. The head scarf allows for people to see past a woman’s beauty and see her for her knowledge."

Alhumedhi will present her proposal to the Unicode Consortium in November, The New York Times reports. (The proposal also calls for an emoji of a man wearing the kaffiyeh, a square head scarf.) If approved, the design would be listed as a "candidate emoji" for Unicode 10, which will be announced in June.