Sarah Holder at CityLab: “For most of human history, maps have been very exclusive,” said Marie Price, the first woman president of the American Geographical Society, appointed 165 years into its 167-year history. “Only a few people got to make maps, and they were carefully guarded, and they were not participatory.” That’s slowly changing, she said, thanks to democratizing projects like OpenStreetMap (OSM)….
But despite OSM’s democratic aims, and despite the long (albeit mostly hidden) history of lady cartographers, the OSM volunteer community is still composed overwhelmingly of men. A comprehensive statistical breakdown of gender equity in the OSM space has not yet been conducted, but Rachel Levine, a GIS operations and training coordinator with the American Red Cross, said experts estimate that only 2 to 5 percent of OSMers are women. The professional field of cartography is also male-dominated, as is the smaller subset of GIS professionals. While it would follow that the numbers of mappers of color and LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming mappers are similarly small, those statistics have gone largely unexamined….
When it comes to increasing access to health services, safety, and education—things women in many developing countries disproportionately lack—equitable cartographic representation matters. It’s the people who make the map who shape what shows up. On OMS, buildings aren’t just identified as buildings; they’re “tagged” with specifics according to mappers’ and editors’ preferences. “If two to five percent of our mappers are women, that means only a subset of that get[s] to decide what tags are important, and what tags get our attention,” said Levine.
Sports arenas? Lots of those. Strip clubs? Cities contain multitudes. Bars? More than one could possibly comprehend.
Meanwhile, childcare centers, health clinics, abortion clinics, and specialty clinics that deal with women’s health are vastly underrepresented. In 2011, the OSM community rejected an appeal to add the “childcare” tag at all. It was finally approved in 2013, and in the time since, it’s been used more than 12,000 times.
Doctors have been tagged more than 80,000 times, while healthcare facilities that specialize in abortion have been tagged only 10; gynecology, near 1,500; midwife, 233, fertility clinics, none. Only one building has been tagged as a domestic violence facility, and 15 as a gender-based violence facility. That’s not because these facilities don’t exist—it’s because the men mapping them don’t know they do, or don’t care enough to notice.
So much of the importance of mapping is about navigating the world safely. For women, especially women in less developed countries, that safety is harder to secure. “If we tag something as a public toilet, does that mean it has facilities for women? Does it mean the facilities are safe?” asked Levine. “When we’re tagging specifically, ‘This is a female toilet,’ that means somebody has gone in and said, ‘This is accessible to me.’ When women aren’t doing the tagging, we just get the toilet tag.”
“Women’s geography,” Price tells her students, is made up of more than bridges and tunnels. It’s shaped by asking things like: Where on the map do you feel safe? How would you walk from A to B in the city without having to look over your shoulder? It’s hard to map these intangibles—but not impossible….(More).