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  • Airin Akter, Regional Ambassador

Shining Beyond the Bias: Everywhere She Maps, YouthMappers

Prejudice exists in every facet of life, including race, color, gender, and social status. "Women are weak in comparison to men" and "Men should be the breadwinner in the family" are two phrases that reflect prejudice against a group of people. Women are fighting against bias from childhood to death in our society. Even if you search in google “what is the weaker sex”, it will show you “women regarded collectively”.

From school, college, university, workplace to the bedroom, we test our patience to endure bias.

In our society, studying in the technical sector, such as Engineering, Management Information Systems (MIS) and Project Management, are regarded as masculine fields of study, whereas women are advised to study history, literature, geography and other fundamental subjects. When it comes to demanding professions such as police work or corporate jobs, women are undervalued since society expects women to raise children and provide a better home for their families by foregoing professional opportunities. Furthermore, even if women are able to study in their preferred field, they are still underestimated due to marital concerns. If a woman emphasizes her profession over marriage, she is advised to compromise a little and marry, otherwise, she will not find anyone in the future. Another thing to consider is that women, unlike males, have a marriage age. When a woman reaches the age of thirty, she is regarded to be in the stage of her life when she gets pressure from family and friends to get married. However, the scenario is changing gradually, which is the message of hope for the world. Time will tell whether we have succeeded to reach the apex of equity or not.

The goal of development challenges is to eliminate bias and create a better society for everyone. For example, the Sustainable Development Goals take gender equality into account in order to eliminate discrimination against women and girls to ensure economic growth and a sustainable future. There are programs in place to combat all forms of gender and racial prejudice. As more people get educated, society becomes less biased. The field of geospatial technology has also taken initiatives to abate bias and make a change in the mapping community. YouthMappers, one of the leading open mapping communities around the world, has launched a campaign to increase women's engagement in geospatial data activities; particularly in the field of technology which is Everywhere She Maps, an activity that includes mapping and geospatial data activities, investing in women and girls' security, livelihood, prosperity, and participation in innovation. Everywhere She Maps has arranged mapping activities and leadership programs for women in technology around the world and assigned regional ambassadors in different regions in Asia, Africa, and South America. Eight female regional ambassadors have been working under Everywhere She Maps who have come forward from their regions, shining beyond all the odds and I, Airin Akter, am one of them.

From a small-town girl to a female mapper, I have fought against a lot of prejudices. I have been born and raised in a small town in Bangladesh where girls are used to getting married at the age of sixteen to seventeen. I have grown up hearing the line, coming from my neighbors to my parents that “ Three daughters, no son? You will be in trouble during their marriage”. Having daughters is a matter of pity to some of our citizens. Not only me, daughters who don’t have brothers always gather pity from the people as they doubt women's empowerment. Due to the social barriers, parents consider marrying girls at a young age. During a marriage, a girl's age is a major consideration. I have faced this situation as well. My parents got marriage proposals for me when I was sixteen. It was my parents who were strong enough and decided to support me in continuing my studies. Unfortunately, as girls grow up in these perplexing conditions, they often lose their self-confidence and become more reliant on their male family members as a result of the bias. When a girl is more reliant on male family members, decisions are imposed on her, leaving her unsure whether or not she should pursue a job first. Dependence on a man leaves a woman vulnerable to adversity and reduces her decision-making authority, resulting in a male-dominated society.

With the help of my family, I have stepped forward to break the bias. I was selected as a University of Dhaka student after competing against over half a million candidates from all over Bangladesh. I thought that this was the end of all the bias. However, the same thing came in front of me again when I was searching for a job. I have also faced bias during recruitment in a researched-based organization in Bangladesh as the job responsibilities were more field-based, so the recruiters preferred male candidates despite the fact that I was more than qualified for the position.

I have always wanted to work in a position where I could communicate with folks who have endured difficulties and try to provide some solution regarding the issues. I didn't know the exact title of the position back then in my childhood, but I knew that if I had the opportunity to study at a prestigious university, I would be able to pursue my dream. Coincidentally, after finishing my BSc. from the University of Dhaka, I received an opportunity through the YouthMappers Research Fellowship program, where my research topic was more focused on reducing women's vulnerability to disasters. As a result, I conducted my research in an area where women encountered far greater difficulties than men during disasters. Then I joined Everywhere She Maps which has given me the opportunity to invest in women’s empowerment. The perception of recruiters was unable to prevent me from living my dream, rather they strengthened my inner aspirations to thrive more with Everywhere She Maps. Everywhere She Maps has opened the door for women like me who want to be change-makers to share their stories of breaking the bias and making an example on the world map. The activity not only gives me the opportunity to arrange mapping and technology-based workshops within regions but also to make examples for the women near me that we are competent enough to build our own identities. Thus, Everywhere She Maps makes this chance available to all women who want to break the bias and speak up. Everywhere She Maps welcomes women who are willing to take on new challenges and break down obstacles in order to shine beyond stereotypes.

Men who are supporting women for development understand different perspectives of challenges and impediments that women face around the world. They may be able to resolve the issues and help women to fight against the challenges in the future because this understanding can be used not only to support partners, sisters or mothers but also to raise children. Thus, Everywhere She Maps welcomes men around the world who are willing to be supportive towards women around them.

Being a part of YouthMappers and Everywhere She Maps attending conferences, training, and workshops has become a regular occurrence for me, which is both inspiring and motivating. For an introvert like me, attending conferences and giving speeches in front of academics is a difficult endeavor. Breaking through my fear of speaking English fluently was another battle. The first time, I was unable to respond to questions from the audience during my speech at the State of the Map Asia, 2017, due to my anxiety of speaking incorrect English. Surprisingly, my co-speaker and mentor handled the issue well, advising me to speak English with my friends and family more frequently. I followed the advice and worked on improving my English skills. Later on, I had multiple opportunities to speak in front of groups, and I was able to overcome all of my challenges.

Many women all around the world can gain access to YouthMappers and apply for the opportunities that they offer, to fight against the stereotype, overcome bias, and create a welcoming environment for empowerment. I've organized a discussion to encourage more women to speak up for themselves. The photo below was taken during my speech, and I appear to be quite confident in my ability to deliver.

When I look in the mirror, I always find a small shy girl, introvert, nervous, and scared of confronting people back in my school days, but today’s me gives myself a pat on my shoulder, and says “Good job, you have overcome all the odds”. Today I’m shining beyond the bias and this photo proved it.

Follow me at @airinnila to learn more about my story and learn about opportunities through YouthMappers.


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