This year's International Women’s day theme, choose to challenge, has encouraged and allowed us to assess our individual roles in fighting the century long battle towards achieving gender equality. People from different walks of life have different ideas of what gender equality should look like, and how to go about getting to a point where men and women have equal access to opportunities and resources. Over the course of time, it’s been proven that gender equality goes beyond equal representation, it is strongly tied to women’s rights and often requires policy changes (Larsen, 2018), and who better to take the leading role than women.
Education has become imperative to achieving gender equality, in a sense that it is an enabling tool in the participation of social and economic activities. With the fourth industrial revolution already underway, there’s a growing demand for STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) skills. According to statistics, women only make up 28% of the STEM workforce (AAUW, n.d.), this gives rise to issues that perpetuate the digital gender gap, such as the gender stereotypes, male dominated cultures and fewer role models. The lack of representation in the creation of digital tools and content not only exacerbates the inequalities but also reinforces the stereotypes.
A study conducted on OpenStreetMap(OSM) users in Malawi indicated that there are more male spatial data contributors than females, the statistics are also true at a global scale (Gardner & Mooney, 2018). These Geographical Information System technologies provide insights on patterns that would be missed if location information was not taken into consideration. Spatial technology has the capacity to communicate and visualize the developmental indicators in our community. With the lack of participation by women, the younger generation has little to nothing as a source of inspiration, which in turn enables the vicious cycle of low female participation in tech, specifically in this case, geospatial technology. If you can’t see it, you can’t be it! The Everywhere She Maps activity is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) by and for YouthMappers, which is sponsored by the USAID GeoCenter. This activity was started to give females in the geospatial sector a voice through technical capacity building, providing networking platforms and strengthening the community by adding gender data to the already existing information. Which will then hopefully be used to take action by the relevant stakeholders. The goal is to create a network of women in geospatial tech that become a force to be reckoned with. As a regional ambassador under the Everywhere She Maps initiative, I decided to engage in a productive dialogue with female mappers from LUANAR YouthMappers chapter to commemorate International Women's Day and Open Data Day. We talked about their outlook on what it means to achieve gender equality in the GIS sector, one of the answers that struck me came from a young lady that said, “to see at least one female GIS lecturer.” It never occurred to me up until that point, not only were we under-represented in our mapping contributions, but the scales were unbalanced in academia as well, the mother of research and theories, which in many ways affect and mold how we perceive things, had an underwhelming number of female representatives.
We went on and discussed how open data could contribute towards a world that levels the playing field for both men and women, and we concluded and came to a consensus that knowledge is power! Open data provides access to information that would otherwise be unavailable. As a chapter, they choose to challenge the lack of information and pledge to play their part, by contributing on the OSM platform and adding attribute information to features that are relevant to improving women's livelihood.
About the Author: Ndapile Mkuwu is currently serving as a regional ambassador under the Everywhere She Maps initiative, she was also privileged to be part of the 2019 YouthMappers Leadership Fellows. Her interests range from GIS and RS to the use of drones for good. By profession, she's an instructor at the African Drone and Data Academy. She loves hiking and learning new skills. You can reach her on Twitter: @Ndapile_M.