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Rayouf Alhumedhi’s unique story of social change started with a very ordinary experience. She and her friends wanted to customize their WhatsApp group chat by giving it a fun name. They decided to use a line of emojis—one to represent each girl. But when Alhumedhi searched her keyboard for her own, she couldn’t find one that looked like her.
Like millions of women around the world, Alhumedhi chooses to wear a hijab. Yet, there were no headscarf-wearing emojis. To fill this representation gap, Alhumedhi took action and launched the Hijab Emoji Project, an initiative to create a hijab emoji and add it to keyboards around the world.
After writing a formal proposal, collaborating with a small team, and presenting her idea to the Unicode Technical Committee, Alhumedhi’s work paid off. In 2017, the Unicode Consortium added a Woman With Headscarf emoji.
With such an inspiring story, we’re eager to hear Alhumedhi speak at the “Connect through Tech” plenary session of Solve at MIT on Thursday, May 17, 2018. We connected with her to learn more.
1) What inspired you to join Solve at MIT?
The most significant aspect of Solve that stood out to me was its ability to provide a common platform for Solver teams to discuss their solutions to critical problems and challenge each other, ensuring they implement holistic solutions that take all factors into account.
I also admire Solve’s recognition that solutions are not one dimensional, prompting dynamic discussions by inviting speakers from different backgrounds to share their perspectives. I was incredibly interested in joining because it offered an opportunity to gain invaluable insight on pressing problems from those who are directly involved in solving them.
As a member of Generation Z, I look forward to adding a unique perspective to the conversation. We are digital natives, and any changes or progress in technology will directly affect us. Therefore, I’m interested in learning how solving issues with technology can fit into our futures.
2) What are you most curious to learn about in the Connect through Tech session?
I’m eager to hear—and take part in—the discussion on how increasing technological literacy can help communities socially, economically, and politically. And I’m just as excited to listen to the creative ways in which the panelists used the power of technology to drive positive change for marginalized groups.
3) How can we use technology to promote inclusivity in our daily lives?
The tech world is riddled with spaces that lack the presence of people of color. There are many ways to tackle this issue—no matter the magnitude of the approach. The impact of the hijab emoji, for example, is a fairly micro approach to increasing inclusivity. Regardless, it still made a dent in increasing the representation of Muslim women.
The pivotal role technology plays in education is indisputable, which is why I think initiatives such as “Girls Who Code” should be encouraged and replicated in other STEM sectors. Technology, and all industries, should represent the real world—a world in which people from all walks of life are present.
Lastly, the internet is an integral free educational tool for many, allowing people to learn skills that can help them reach their untapped potential, which may be a result of socio-economic situations.
Rayouf Alhumedhi presents on the hijab emoji at Emojicon, November 6, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Rayouf Alhumedhi)