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  • Alexandra Kicior & Phoebe Hill

Mapping for Women's Empowerment | March

Updated: Apr 9


In connection with Women's History Month, our March Module is Mapping for Women's Empowerment. Before diving into background information on our specific mapping project, we want to spend some time exploring the history of maps and their inherent power. 

Women's Representation in Geography

Since the field of geography is dominated by men, the contributions, needs, and priorities of women are frequently overshadowed. A society that is completely mapped is one that represents all of its members. It is therefore critical to engage future generations of women mappers to reduce inequalities and support gender equality. 

Historically, many women have significantly contributed to the fields of cartography, GIS, surveying, geospatial technology. The names of these women and their contributions may be made entirely invisible by institutional and individual gatekeepers of geographic knowledge. Florence Kelley, a social and political reformer, created a map of Chicago showing demographic information that helped improve the lives of residents living in poverty. Kira Shingareva, another notable female cartographer, was the first to map the dark side of the moon. Marie Tharp was an oceanographic cartographer who created the first scientific map of the ocean floor. These women, among many others, revolutionized the field of cartography and geography, yet very few of us discuss their innovative contributions. 

Women who pursue careers in geography, data sciences, technology, and other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields often face challenges due to their gender. For example, women may experience false stereotypes of their ability to perform compared to their men counterparts in STEM courses and careers. There is also a lack of women leadership roles in university departments and the geospatial industry; in fact, women make up only about 13% of GIS executives. Some employers perceive that women should not be allowed to conduct geographic fieldwork for the women’s own safety. Imposter syndrome, which is especially prevalent among women, means they often doubt their abilities and skills when they work in fields dominated by men. 

Gender Inclusion in Maps

Maps are meant to be representations of our world, but whoever is making the map is showing what they discern this reality to be by prioritizing some elements while choosing to leave out others. It is therefore necessary to focus on inclusivity in mapmaking; having a more diverse range of mappers means we have richer information on the maps themselves. Inclusiveness in maps ranges from involving people of different racial backgrounds to people of different genders to people of different socioeconomic backgrounds or age groups. A truly global map should represent everyone, regardless of their origin, color, race, gender, ethnicity, or ability. Specifically, gender inclusion in maps seeks to contribute to the global community by collecting and creating critical data to increase interventions that can be sustainable and impactful. 

Collecting and analyzing data that is representative of an entire gendered community and its members can seem tedious, but this data can be used to empower millions of women and girls. When women map, they are more likely than men to represent women’s specific needs and priorities, which is key to driving changes in local policies, plans, and budgets. Geographic attributes, details, and services that are important to one group of people – such as women – might be overlooked by certain mapmakers, which ultimately results in a biased map. Services such as bus parks, childcare, women’s health clinics, family shelters, and other organizations that specifically help women may be neglected by male mappers. Details shown by more gender-inclusive maps can help planners and policymakers identify changes to improve public spaces, services, and facilities in order to better serve an entire population or community. 

Humanitarian Mapping and Women's Empowerment

HOT has been actively collaborating with communities in 94 countries to create a more representative map that serves as the foundation for making informed decisions and ensuring targeted interventions for development, disaster response, and social justice.

As part of a HOT project in Uganda, OpenStreetMap tools were used to fight gender-based violence (GBV). The project, in partnership with the Center for Life Change Development, undertook sensitization and awareness campaigns, introduced OSM tools to social workers, police, and other stakeholders, and undertook training to add points of interest on OSM as a navigation tool to respond to GBV calls. One of the major indicators of gender equality is the agency and ability of women and girls to make informed decisions about their health and have access to quality healthcare facilities.

 In another HOT project in Uganda, the NGO Amara Hub project, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, demonstrated significant results by enhancing contraceptive access. 31 volunteer community health workers created and shared static maps showcasing the prevalence and distribution of contraceptive use with government health officials, health facilities, and local NGO-supported reproductive health services, adding over 520 points of interest related to contraceptive health access. It also generated maps of administrative boundaries, police stations, and health centers.

Data is the best way to spur evidence-based and gender-responsive policy action and leave no one behind. Filling the data gaps using participatory mapping can help identify and challenge gender norms and barriers, share and implement solutions, and change community structures holding women back. The intersection of gender data and open mapping represents a powerful tool for advancing gender equity and social inclusion. By harnessing the power of technology, collaboration, and collective action, we can create a more just, inclusive, and equitable future.

March's Mapping Project

For our March Module, Mapping for Women's Empowerment, we invite you to contribute to the following project: MAPPING IN CUAJIMALPA, MÉXICO CITY FOR FEMALE SAFETY.

In this mapping project, TeenMaptivists will support UAMaps and Morras Socioterritoriales who came together for a series of activities, with the aim of mapping infrastructure related to the security of spaces for women (lighting, cameras). In this project, we will work on completing a base map to support their mapping efforts.

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