“When women map, they fill the gap”. Maps are fundamental in helping us understand the who, what, and where in an humanitarian crisis response. Too often, these issues disproportionately affect women, and women are unable to map them. The accessible nature of OpenStreetMap has allowed women to bridge this gap, or digital divide. Today, approximately 40% percent of YouthMappers are women, and an estimated 5% of OpenStreetMappers are women. Projects such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Women Connect Challenge and YouthMapper’s Let Girls Map Campaign are working to reduce the digital gender divide around the world.
On Wednesday, March 6th, humanitarian organizations in the Washington, D.C. area celebrated International Women’s Day and the progress that has been made by women and for women in OpenStreetMap. Among the organizers were the Humanitarian Mapping Society of the George Washington University (HMS), the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), Missing Maps, the American Red Cross, YouthMappers, and the U.S. State Department’s MapGive. The evening began with a talk from Carrie Stokes, the Chief Geographer of USAID and Director of the USAID GeoCenter. Stokes discussed her experience with YouthMappers, and emphasizing to participants that with digital mapping, “we have the choice to give women a voice.” She explained why open-source mapping is a powerful medium for women to be empowered and supported. The second speaker was Dr. Marie Price, first female President of the American Geographical Society (AGS) and Interim Chair for the Department of Geography at the George Washington University. She first gave a brief summary of the American Geographical Society’s history of attempting to map the world and how the open source platform has revolutionized cartography and made maps available for all.
Carrie Stokes sharing her vision for YouthMappers
Issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM), early marriage, and gender-based violence (GBV) are particular threats to women and girls in low- and middle-income countries that face public health crises and political instability. In Washington, DC, however, safety for women looks very different. The March 6th mapathon attendees also participated in small group discussions on what safety means to them, and look critically at how safety is “mapped” in different parts of the world. From street lamps to businesses open late, aspects like these can make a city like DC feel safer for women. Following the discussion, participants mapped in support of tasks in Peru, The Philippines, and Tanzania. These tasks requested base map data to address issues of gender-based policy inequalities, food security, and FGM respectively.
Dr. Marie Price discussing AGS and the importance of putting people and places on the map
Rachel Levine (The Missing Maps, American Red Cross) and Rachel Van Nice (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team) discuss the importance of mapping and tagging in support of women and girls.
The International Women’s Day Mapathon in DC was a second-annual mapathon for the area, and one of many great events that were held around the world this March for Women’s History Month. To find similar events, please visit and use the #WhenWomenMap Twitter hashtag, and contribute to the Let Girls Map and Women Connect Challenge.
Jo Belanger and Siri Knudsen are seniors at The George Washington University and assisted in organizing and facilitating the 2019 International Women's Day Mapathon. Jo Belanger is the president of The GWU Humanitarian Mapping Society, a former USAID GeoCenter Virtual Intern, and a 2019 YouthMappers Leadership Fellow. Siri Knudsen is Training Coordinator of The GWU Humanitarian Mapping Society, and a former USAID GeoCenter Virtual Intern.