Today we celebrate International Women’s Day, and while it would be nice to have no need for this day, we would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of women OSMers.
Thank you for any contribution to the project – be it map data, code, organising mapathons, advocacy or other.
We do not know exactly how many women globally contribute to the OpenStreetMap project via mapping or other ways, however, it is known that the percentage of women in the OSM community – as in many tech adjacent communities – is low. The reason we do not know is because we do not ask for personal information such as name, gender or age when signing for an account on OpenStreetMap.org. Mappers can freely choose, and change, their username, and it is not mandatory that they respond to surveys, or map in a certain way.
All this doesn’t make the collection of demographic data easy, and figures mentioning percentages should be taken with a big grain of salt. Collecting data on why people aren’t joining us is even more difficult as absent people can’t answer questions. While it has been impossible, so far, to get a clear picture on why some people contribute more or less than others, hypotheses have been formulated throughout the years – the lower percentage might reflect aspects of societies such as that many women have less free time than men. We should also note that the percentage of women OSM contributors varies geographically. The majority of attendees at Albanian community events, for example are women. We also seem to see more women participating when there is a clear goal – for example in humanitarian mapping campaigns we often have an almost equal gender balance.
The under-representation of women has been often highlighted on community channels, as well as by initiatives like Geochicas. They raise an important message, and we are also thankful for the work of local groups that are raising awareness.
We -do- know that the reasons that bring people of any gender, origin or age to our project seem to be similar among contributors: it’s fun to make the map data a bit better and it’s rewarding when someone finds your work useful.
Renaming Belgium’s biggest tunnel
Initiatives of individuals have effect, both in the representation of women as well as on OpenStreetMap. So, we would like to take this opportunity to share some news from the Belgian community: the longest tunnel in the country, which currently carries the name of Leopold II, will be renamed after a woman, who has not been chosen yet. What does that have to do with OSM you may ask (other that the change will be reflected on our map data as soon as one of eager and active contributors can update it). The name change came about after officials became aware of equalstreetnames – a project by the Belgian OSM community and the Feminist Collective Names Maybe Maybe, which colours streets differently on an OSM-based map, depending on whether the streets are named after a man or a woman. You can read more about the tunnel renaming here.
OSMF board’s answer to recent press enquiry
The OSM Foundation board and the OSM Communication Working Group have recently been contacted by a Reuters reporter, enquiring about why the number of women in OSM is low and what is OSM doing to address the gender imbalance and encourage more women to contribute. You can read the full answer here. Excerpts follow:
“We would like to highlight that anyone can contribute to OpenStreetMap, irrespective of their gender/nationality/religion and other factors (which we do not ask). Having said that, yes – there are actions both from the OpenStreetMap Foundation, as well as from community members, to increase the participation of women, and all underrepresented groups. Note that the OpenStreetMap Foundation has a relatively minor role in the OpenStreetMap project. Core infrastructure is run by volunteers, but even our map style and our website are built by independent volunteers. Most things that happen in the OpenStreetMap environment are run by the community.”
“The OpenStreetMap Foundation is interested in increasing the diversity in general and to attract marginalized groups of people and people outside the gender binary, not just women.”
OpenStreetMap Foundation and community efforts
Efforts by the OpenStreetMap Foundation and the OSM community mentioned in the press answer include:
- The OSM Foundation has recently adopted a Diversity Statement which affirms support for expanding our diversity (in all its forms) in OSM.
- The OpenStreetMap Foundation has also recently initiated a Diversity and Inclusion Special Committee. Its first task is to assist the Foundation (and hopefully the wider OpenStreetMap project & community) to identify imbalances in the community. To do so, it will gather and assess existing research, and collect any additional necessary data. It will then look at the causes, both internal and external, of imbalances, recommend actions to address them, and in due time evaluate their impact.
Mapping in support of women and girls
- The community has created and maintains a page dedicated to mapping in support of women and girls. You can find it at https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Tagging_in_Support_of_Women_and_Girls and it lists some points of interest that are related to women’s health, safety or life that can be mapped. Lit roads, gynaecologists, toilets for females and vending machines that dispense feminine hygiene products are a few examples of things that can be mapped.
We would like to emphasize that OpenStreetMap is based on mapping freedom and anyone can map almost any object with geographical qualities that is verifiable. So, if someone is interested in a feature that has not been mapped yet, they are free to create their own tags and add it to the database (it might be a good idea to discuss the created tags on the tagging mailing list to get feedback for potentially better tag options).
Specific communication channels
- OSM is large, and made up of many smaller (sub-)communities. Many groups have been formed for people interested in this topic, which helps encourage members of that marginalized group participate in OSM. Geochicas is one example of this. Other examples are the communities formed around the Telegram channels RainbOSM and Geoladies (there is some overlap of participants).
Ensuring safe and welcome participation at OSM events
- The OSM Foundation organises the annual, international State of the Map (SotM) conference, which has rules ensuring that a wide range of participants feels safe and welcome.
- There are local OpenStreetMap events run by community members with rules having the same aim.
Granting scholarships to the annual conference
- The OSM Foundation has a scholarship program providing support to community members who cannot afford to travel to the international State of the Map conference. Gender is a core consideration in the selection process.
Electing women to the OSM Foundation board
- Before December 2019, both the chairperson and the secretary of our Foundation were women. Board members are voted by the OSM Foundation membership.
Please note that OSM Foundation members constitute a small part of the community – you don’t need to be an OSMF member in order to participate in the OpenStreetMap project, you just need to create an account at www.openstreetmap.org. Having said that, we would like to see the OSMF membership becoming more diverse so please consider joining the Foundation. We are also trying to make it easier to join.
- Participation of women in OSM, and diversity in general, is a subject frequently discussed in community channels, has been highlighted in talks by community members in State of the Map conferences and has led to actions by the OSM Foundation.
Reach out and support
- Various local groups reach out to women and engage them in introductory OSM workshop, offering support afterwards.
Recognising the contribution of specific women OSMers
- For the past several years, the OSM community has nominated and selected individuals, groups and projects which have helped the project. One of the OpenStreetMap Awards is for “Expanding the Community”, which recognises growing and diversifying the OSM community.
- Nominations for the 2020 OSM Awards are currently open. If you know of anyone whose contributions you want recognised, please nominate them!
Please note that the list above is incomplete, as there are many efforts by local communities. We invite you to share the contributions of your local group in the comments.
New article about female participation in OSM
You can read Reuters’ article, which focuses on female participation in OSM and is based on conversations with OSMers such as Geochicas and the OSM Foundation Board at “Visible women’: Feminist mappers bridge data gap in urban design”.
We would like again to thank anyone who identifies as a woman for their contributions and would like to highlight that mappers don’t require permission, moderation, approval or votes by the existing majority in order to add new things, or to start mapping new features. Even small minorities can map what’s important to them. This openness, and flexibility, allows OSM to be welcoming to new, and unforeseen, types of contributions.
Are you an OSMer who identifies as a woman? Share with us in the comments what you are passionate about. If you would like to answer anonymously, feel free to send your answer to email@example.com and we will post it without your (user)name.
International Men’s day is on 19th of November.
International Nonbinary Day is on 14th of July.
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The OpenStreetMap Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation, formed to support the OpenStreetMap Project. It is dedicated to encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free geospatial data for anyone to use and share. The OpenStreetMap Foundation owns and maintains the infrastructure of the OpenStreetMap project, is financially supported by membership fees and donations, and organises the annual, international State of the Map conference. It has no full-time employees and it is supporting the OpenStreetMap project through the work of our volunteer Working Groups. Please consider becoming a member of the Foundation.
OpenStreetMap was founded in 2004 and is a international project to create a free map of the world. To do so, we, thousands of volunteers, collect data about roads, railways, rivers, forests, buildings and a lot more worldwide. Our map data can be downloaded for free by everyone and used for any purpose – including commercial usage. It is possible to produce your own maps which highlight certain features, to calculate routes etc. OpenStreetMap is increasingly used when one needs maps which can be very quickly, or easily, updated.