When 15-year-old Rayouf Alhumedhi went searching for an emoji to express herself in a group chat room, she came up short. So the Berlin teen chose to create a symbol—the hijab, or headscarf—that has ignited a debate in Europe and beyond about religious freedom, multiculturalism, and women's rights. “I wanted something to represent me, alongside the millions of women who wear the headscarf every day,” Alhumedhi tells the Washington Post. The teen, originally from Saudi Arabia, wrote to Apple but got no response, reports the New York Times. She then sent a short pitch to the Unicode Consortium, the non-profit that approves new emojis, and a member of one of its subcommittees helped her flesh it out, complete with a design.
"Roughly 550 million Muslim women on this earth pride themselves on wearing the hijab," the proposal says. "With this enormous number of people, not a single space on the keyboard is reserved for them." Alhumedhi tells the BBC that "emjois are everywhere" and "people want to be acknowledged … and recognized, especially in the tech world." Controversy has raged in countries such as France—where the burkini controversy dominated the summer's news—as to whether Muslim dress symbolizes the oppression of women and should be limited. Alhumedi took issue with that view on Tuesday in a Reddit forum. "Might seem baffling, but when I wear the headscarf I actually feel liberated because I'm in control of what I want to cover," she wrote. If approved, look for the teen's emoji in 2017. (These emojis are meant to empower women.)