[Diversity-talk] Who Maps The World

alyssa wright alyssapwright at gmail.com
Thu Mar 15 01:47:07 UTC 2018

Hi all,

City Lab article below on gender disparity in OSM. I actually think things
have evolved and are more nuanced then ever before. Wondering if I am being


A map only reveals as much as the mapmaker knows about the world, or at
least, cares to show. When most mapmakers are men, there’s bound to be gaps.

For example, on Open Street Map, the free and open-source Google Maps
competitor edited by volunteers around the world, “childcare centers,
health clinics, abortion clinics, and specialty clinics that deal with
women’s health are vastly underrepresented,” reports Sarah Holder at CityLab
It’s estimated that just 2 to 5 percent of OSMers are women. The vast
majority are older, retired men.

That gender imbalance provokes serious debate among mapmakers—one of the
more contentious battles in OSM history was in 2011, when editors rejected
an appeal to tag “childcare” at all. (It’s since been added.) But more
importantly, a map that fails to represent the needs of more than half the
population is not a very a useful map. The stakes are highest in places
where there is no Google, Apple, or any other company working as a back-up.
Sometimes, a volunteer-made map is the only cartographic resource citizens
and humanitarian organizations in developing countries have to go on.
A childcare center in Scottsdale, Arizona. (OSM)

That’s why a team of OpenStreetMap users—with lots of women involved—is
intentionally creating maps that reflect space more inclusively. On
International Women’s Day, Holder reported on a “feminist map-a-thon” in
Washington, D.C., hosted by Missing Maps, a humanitarian mapping
organization. There, volunteers worked to build a map for an NGO in
Tanzania that shelters girls facing the threat of genital mutilation. Their
digital lines and labels (such as: “women’s toilet”) could become
real-world escape routes.

Inclusive geography is about more than mapping bridges and tunnels that
everybody uses. “It’s shaped by asking things like: Where on the map do you
feel safe?” Holder writes. “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.”
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