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  • ESM Regional Ambassadors: Airin, Jaria, Laura, Maliha, Natalia, Ndapile, Raya, Stella & YouthMappers Staff: Dara, Marcela, Fiona

An Interview with #EverywhereSheMaps Regional Ambassadors

With a mission to increase women's participation in the geospatial industry and communities that use geospatial technologies - our newest program, Everywhere She Maps, was created. This initiative addresses the chronic underrepresentation of women in the geospatial industry through targeted programming and workshops designed to build women student mappers' technical capacity of open source platforms and tools. Funded by the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity initiative, organized activities will also enhance professional and networking skills and add data relevant to women’s needs through cross continental mapping campaigns. Eight alumni and faculty advisors within the YouthMappers network were selected to serve as regional ambassadors under Everywhere She Maps (ESM) to directly support chapters as they develop inclusive mapping communities in and around their university campuses. Continue reading to learn their perspectives on gender issues in the geospatial industry and how their roles as ambassadors will support future student leaders.

Virtual interview with Everywhere She Maps Regional Ambassadors

Healthcare, education, transportation, and economic conditions for women are strengthened when they are represented on apps, websites, and mapping platforms. For instance, women may travel far distances for maternity services, family planning, and medical screenings, etc. when the resources are actually near but unknown to them because they’re not available/visible on existing maps.

What type of geographic data is undermapped?

Natalia da Silveria Arruda, Colombia: Based on a survey of Latin American students, they mentioned wanting to have more information on places that provide access for reproductive services, job opportunities to women, and enterprise opportunities for women because these locations are undermapped.

Laura Mugeha, Kenya: A lot of mapping was done earlier last year because of COVID-19, but when we looked at what was mapped a lot of people tended to map general health services. They weren’t thinking about health services for women, so locations like antenatal care, vaccination sites for mothers and children, and cancer screening centers were not mapped. This gender data, a subset of data, would help to highlight access to these services. For example, when we looked at our data we noticed 250 hospitals offered health services to women in Nairobi, but only 27 were available on OpenStreetMap.

Stellamaris Nakacwa, Uganda: When I discussed the trials and tribulations of girls in Ethiopia while conducting outreach, students shared about high incidences of domestic and sexual violence, and that they would like to map and provide information on rehabilitation to support these women for physical and mental health. I realize that it is a big challenge, especially in Ethiopia, so that would be good data to add to the map.

Jariatou Jallow, The Gambia: The fact that the Gambia is about 75% unmapped makes it more difficult for women victims to have or know places to report abuse or a safe zone to speak out. When we map safe zones or include victim centres on the map it will be a step in helping young women to speak out regarding daily violence and abuses both at home and in workplaces.

Ndapile Mkuwu, Malawi: It’s not about being undermapped, it’s about the gender data set that’s missing. The resources are represented on the map, but who controls these resources? Women might have access to the resources, but more often than not, men end up having the final say and control of these resources. An example of this is access to water, women are the primary users of boreholes, but they do not control the operating hours or who has access to this water supply.

Airin Akter, Bangladesh: I’d like to emphasize Ndapile’s points on the right to access information. Here in Bangladesh, there is a right to access information. Which for instance if there are inadequate health facilities he or she can use this information to resolve the problem. Women tend not to use these resources to better facilities for themselves. For example, I can access all the rights I have from our capital city in Bangladesh, but a woman from a remote area of Bangladesh may not know about these rights. So we first need to improve the situation, so that women know they can get those resources and they can go there alone [by collecting and sharing gender data on facilities for women].

9 videos of women appear from this Zoom screenshot
Screenshot from virtual interview with Everywhere She Maps Regional Ambassadors

According to UNESCO statistics, women made up a third (29.3%) of employment in scientific research and development averaged across world regions in 2016. While there are no exact current statistics on the percentage of women in the OpenStreetMap community - a GeoJournal study stated that 95-98% of all contributions to OpenStreetMap were produced by men - it is understood to be a low percentage.

Are women underrepresented in the geospatial industry?

Natalia: Women are outnumbered in the cartography and voluntary cartography fields. This leads to a greater wealth of information reflecting men’s perspectives, such as elements known by men and considered important to men. The pandemic has intensified the existing gap in the industry between men and women.

There is a great vulnerability for women as both students and research professors in the geospatial field due to economic restrictions for scholarships, fellowships, and research funding. We have fewer women having access to funding to develop their own research, so I believe we will see or are already seeing underrepresentation for women in science. In a survey I conducted with YouthMappers chapters in Latin America, the students shared that women are more vulnerable to job loss as a result of pregnancy, they feel that professors do not listen to them, and they fear giving their opinions to male professors.

UN Women shared that research found women represent 45% of Bachelor students, 55% of Masters students, and 44% of Ph.D. candidates- but only 33% of researchers are women. We also see a decline of women in the STEM field as they progress in their careers.

What barriers exist deterring women from joining the geospatial industry?

Raya Idrissa Ahmada, Tanzania: Women’s roles are looked upon differently by society and STEM fields are viewed and socially constructed as ‘Masculine.’ It is common in the areas like mine where the culture inhibits women from some types of work, especially jobs with demanding hours.

Laura: The GIS space basically crosscuts all of the individual STEM branches. So when success stories are shared about the industry they tend to be about men. So when a lady is choosing her career, she doesn't see the stories about the woman engineer or GIS professional who is a woman. At that point, there is already limited entry into the industry which adds to an underrepresentation of women in the geospatial industry.

How do these barriers prevent women’s involvement in the geospatial industry?

Airin: Recruiters prefer male candidates for geospatial jobs, so there are less job opportunities for women. I applied for a job as a GIS specialist and other than me there were three men. The recruiter explained to me they preferred men due to the fieldwork duties because they felt less concerned about safety risks in sending men to do fieldwork in remote areas.

Maliha Binte Mohiuddin, Bangladesh: From my experiences, I feel like women are not taken seriously in their position in the geospatial industry- which leads to women being discouraged to go into the industry. There’s another factor too that some families don’t support women to work outside to go and do fieldwork, so they aren’t being supported. It is really hard for us to change their perception of thinking that young women can not work outside. Your family has to be very supportive of you joining this industry, or otherwise, you have to be rebellious to make them understand your position.

In order to create an inclusive map, the mapping community must represent the world’s diversity. For example, in 2013 women mappers successfully campaigned to have the tag “childcare” added to OpenStreetMap. To date, the tag has been used more than 24,000 times.

What is the impact of the underrepresentation of women in the geospatial industry?

Laura: The lack of gendered data, especially in the GIS space, stems from the traditional use of GIS for planning and engineering. The additional applications of GIS for the social space started in the last decade. And for most of these issues, it was general issues affecting the world. So poverty, health, and such things but there have been very few use cases for how GIS technology has been used to specifically address issues affecting women and girls. I’m also guessing that lots of women and girls tend to move into careers that are addressing social issues and affecting women in particular, so with the lack of such data I’m assuming that will contribute to some of the underrepresentation because women are not able to see how we could use this technology to solve their own problems.

Stella: Geospatial technology and OpenStreetMap have been built to economically empower. And women related issues may never be taken seriously or included if they don’t have a seat at the table [included in discussions]. Women need to be at the table to create better solutions- workable and sustainable solutions- for their own economic empowerment.

Ndapile: The barriers result from the social contracts built around IT (Information Technology) and the geospatial industry. IT is seen as a more masculine industry, so women are less likely to join the industry because of a lack of mentorship. Most of the lecturers I know that are in the GIS industry are men, so there’s really no one to look up to in that matter. And if you are not represented in that sector, then obviously your concerns won’t be put on the map.

Laura: When proposals are put in for things like tagging systems because of the nature of those groups having an underrepresentation of women, when gender data requests are made they are usually not approved. For a project I worked on, we had a number of attributes that we could have added to the map, but we were not able to because we did not have the correct tags to use so those features were not mapped. Sometimes data points can be seen as something that is not necessary and needed, because the final decisions aren’t made by women mappers. So I think these examples complement Ndapile’s remarks because a lot of these systems do not work with women, so they do not see the need for such attributes and things being mapped as well.

Women mentors and sponsors are vital to the retention and advancement of women in the geospatial field. Because studies have shown thatwomen are more likely to get into a career in tech if they have had an inspirational figure to follow in the footsteps of.

What is your role as a Regional Ambassador under Everywhere She Maps?

Natalia: Encourage students to map projects related to gender equality. Also, provide technical support, trainings, and webinars. I don’t restrict the presence of men during these activities, because I really believe that we have to be very supportive of all genders. We need to train men to be more respectful and understand that they can be taught by women and share spaces with women. The fact that I am a woman giving instructions and trainings encourages other women- I believe that this is very powerful for students to see women giving trainings to know they can do it in the future.

Laura: Sharing as many stories of women in this space and what they are doing, and making sure those stories are seen. It happens that a lot of women tend to go to school to study GIS, but they might end up transitioning. I hope to avoid that by these students seeing stories of women succeeding and leading in the GIS space that they will remain. I also encourage women to join communities that are focused on women and girls, at the moment there are several communities such as Women in Geospatial +, Ladies of Landsat, and African Women in GIS. All of these communities have been booming.

Also sharing in the space of these communities; because you get to learn more from them and if there are issues you also get to connect with more women, learn from their industries, and have mentorship and coaching to boost your confidence. Also, I think it is important to lead the contribution of gendered health data. For example, I’ve been working on a project to generate health data in Nairobi. Hopefully, with such information, we are able to highlight issues affecting women and girls. And from this project, we have seen more participation and interest from ladies.

Stella: A few things I’ve considered for ensuring that we overcome these barriers is the focus on leadership. How do we put our voice out there? I have continued to utilize all spaces and push myself into those spaces when I feel like I need to be there to speak to gender incoherencies happening within the industry or as students. I believe that once women are placed in leadership roles with the ability to stand before others and not to feel deprived of their freedom to deliver or deliberate- I’m sure we will have the position to advance economically and socially.

Maliha: From my experience, I think it is important for women to reach economic independence. Through GIS and geospatial data, women can gain marketing and analysis skills which will allow them to reach financial independence. Once a person is financially independent she won’t introduce herself as Mrs. something, she’ll introduce herself by her own identity which will give her confidence and will bring another perspective of seeing leadership in a greater role.

Raya: Share stories of us becoming role models to show them it is possible. Also, by training and the community gaining awareness to not restrict girls from studying in STEM related fields, including the GIS field.

To ensure underrepresented places are added to the map women must be involved because women comprise half of the world’s population. Engaging women in the geospatial industry by creating a safe environment will help women develop, so they can continue to grow and learn.

How does the Everywhere She Maps initiative benefit the mapping community?

Laura: There are a lot of ladies already doing amazing things. EverywhereSheMaps helps to share their stories and work. This will help to improve diversity in the mapping community in different ways.

Natalia: Women are as capable as men when they receive the same opportunities (from education to job placement). Securing women’s perspectives allows different points of view to be brought to the GIS industry, perceptions that are strong and sensitive at the same time and are concerned with minorities and vulnerable populations. These diverse perspectives can guide the resolution of many conflicts and the achievement of many of the objectives of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

Ndapile: Everywhere She Maps provides a network and opportunities to women mappers, I believe it will empower women and equip them with the right skills to take on the “social norms” through inclusive mapping.

After reading the insights and experiences of the Everywhere She Maps Regional Ambassadors we hope you will celebrate this initiative and women mappers beyond Women’s History Month in March! Not sure how to get started? Attend and plan events featuring women in the geospatial industry. Find events to participate in by visiting the websites of Crowd2Map, Women in Geospatial + GeoChicas, African Women in GIS, Women in GIS, Ladies of Landsat, and YouthMappers Calendar. Are you interested in contributing to geospatial data projects that invest in improving women and girls’ security, livelihoods, access, prosperity, and innovation? Click here to support and learn more about the Everywhere She Maps initiative.


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