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  • Candan Eylül Kilsedar, Politecnico di Milano

Female Empowerment through Mapping

In today’s world, data is empowering. It enables to analyse a matter and take action based on the analysis. In other words, it is a precondition for the process of change to begin. For this reason, enabling data creation in diverse groups is crucial to solving pressing issues. OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a platform that facilitates this; anyone in the world can create the geographical data that they consider necessary for their community. Unfortunately, even though OSM has a democratic approach to geospatial data creation, it has an overwhelmingly male-dominant community; only around 5% of the community is female. YouthMappers is a network that works towards changing this. For this purpose, it runs a campaign called Let Girls Map, active from International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019, to International Day of the Girl, October 11, 2019, during which the network features mapping tasks that are aimed to solve issues related to females and aims to attract more female mappers. As a result of its mission to create more inclusive student mapping communities for females that manifests itself in this campaign, the community of YouthMappers is around 40% female.

Photos left to right are taken by Karen Martinez, Serena Coetzee and Laura Mugeha.

In the 2019 edition of the YouthMappers Leadership Fellowship, I had a chance to meet wonderful women who have set their mind to change the world for the better through open mapping. During the workshops that took place, we brainstormed on what OSM data can be created to help address issues girls and women face and, as a result, make OSM more equitable.

We reasoned that some of the features that can be mapped are hospitals where women can give birth, childcare centres, public schools that girls can attend, which are vastly absent in OSM. Tagging public toilets for females is among the options to make OSM more female-friendly; it allows girls and women to know that a female tagged toilet is safe to use, preventing them from going to unsafe places. The work of Crowd2Map Tanzania is exemplary in this regard. They have been mapping roads; buildings including schools, hospitals and clinics; hamlets, villages and towns in rural Tanzania to help locate the girls at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM). Besides, the data created can be used to assess the current situation of a matter and as a result, identify the facilities needed so that it is possible to build them.

Nevertheless, having more women mapping for their needs and interests is only part of the solution; men should be more conscious and sentient towards creating a map that represents both women and men. However, the value of having women in the open mapping communities exceeds the value of the data in the OSM database. Besides overcoming the social constructs to enable equal participation of both genders, it brings in a different perspective to the matters both related and not related to the issues girls and women face. These are among the reasons why YouthMappers supports female participation in their university chapters and works towards developing their leadership skills.

Photos are taken by Laura Mugeha.

Candan Eylül Kilsedar is a PhD student and temporary research fellow at Politecnico di Milano, Italy. She was the president of PoliMappers for two years before December 2018. She is one of the 2019 YouthMappers Leadership Fellows, with whom she came together at the University of Pretoria in Pretoria, South Africa for a nine-day workshop. She is active in free and open source software (FOSS) and OSM communities. Her research focuses on using FOSS to visualize and analyse big and multidimensional open geospatial data in two and three dimensions on the Web. More information about her is available at

Photo is taken by Rachel Levy.

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