Officers & Board/Press/2020-03-female participation in OSM

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Press enqury

Date: 2020-03-04

Reporter: by Anastasia Moloney

Affiliation: Latin America and Caribbean correspondent for Thomson Reuters Foundation in Bogota

The OSMF board and the OSM Communication Working Group have been contacted on 2020-03-04 by Anastasia Moloney (Reuters Foundation reporter) who has been in contact with Geochicas. Her questions were:

  • Does OSM have any data to show how many women contribute to OSM and from where? She looked at the membership statistics but couldn’t find data broken down by gender or age.
  • Why do so few women contribute to OSM?
  • Is OSM doing anything to address the big gender gap and encourage more women to contribute to OSM?

Answer provided

Hi Anastasia,

We read your questions with much interest. Most of the Board members wrote parts of the following together; our admin assistant and Communications Working Group member Dorothea turned it into a single text.

1) Does OSM have any data to show how many women contribute to OSM and from where?

OpenStreetMap is a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. Fundamentally, OpenStreetMap is a very open project: anyone can contribute to OpenStreetMap and map anything. Mappers don’t require permission, moderation, approval or votes by the existing majority. Even small minorities can map what’s important to them. Contributors don’t have to give any personal information such as name, gender or age. Mappers can freely choose and change their username, and it is not mandatory that they respond to surveys or map in a certain way. Differences in mapping interest between men and women seem to be limited.

All this doesn’t make the collection of demographic data easy, and all figures should be taken with a big grain of salt. There have been several attempts at getting a rough estimate, and these imperfect figures do show an underrepresentation of women.

We haven’t seen the data GeoChicas have collected, and can’t comment on its accuracy.

The most recent academically sourced number we found was 13% (citation:, though they do mention the topic of the survey might lead to overrepresentation of women.

We are in favour of such initiatives that help increase diversity in our project. GeoChicas raise an important message, and we are also thankful for the work of local groups that are helping us raise geographical diversity.

Anecdotally, OSM does also seem to have a wider contributor diversity in geography and age than projects like Wikipedia, or “open source” software projects. A list of top contributors does show both male and female names.

Please note that we do not require OpenStreetMap Foundation members to disclose their gender when they join the Foundation. One could try to deduce the gender from the names, but OSM Foundation members are only a very small part of the global OpenStreetMap community anyway - you don’t need to be an OSM Foundation member in order to participate in the OpenStreetMap project. You just need to create an account at

2) Why do so few women contribute to OSM?

As previously mentioned, we do not know exactly how many women globally contribute to the OpenStreetMap project. Please note that contributions are not only in the form of mapping, but also of code, organisation of mapathons, documentation on the OSM wiki, artistic and in many other ways. For online contributions no-one can deduce your gender, unless it is obvious from your selected username.

Additionally, demographic data is difficult to gather, and collecting data on why people aren’t joining us is even more difficult as absent people can’t answer questions. While it has been impossible, so far, to get a clear picture on why some people contribute more or less than others, hypotheses have been formulated throughout the years - the lower percentage might reflect aspects of societies such as that many women have less free time than men. We also seem to see more women participating when there is a clear goal, for example a humanitarian mapping campaign.

We -do- know that the reasons that bring people of any gender, origin or age to our project seem to be similar amongst contributors: it’s fun to make the map a bit better and it’s rewarding when someone finds your work useful.

We notice that at informal meetups, conferences or workshops, the percentage of women is usually about 10%, but varies highly. The majority of attendees at Albanian community events, for example, are women. In humanitarian mapathons, we often have an almost equal gender balance.

3) Is OSM doing anything to address the big gender gap and encourage more women to contribute to OSM?

We would like to highlight that anyone can contribute to OpenStreetMap, irrespective of their gender/nationality/religion and other factors (which we do not ask). Having said that, yes - there are actions both from the OpenStreetMap Foundation, as well as from community members to increase the participation of women.

Note that the OpenStreetMap Foundation has a relatively minor role in the OpenStreetMap project. Core infrastructure is run by Foundation volunteers, but even our map style and our website are built by independent volunteers. Most things that happen in the OpenStreetMap environment, are run by the community.

OpenStreetMap Foundation efforts

Increasing diversity

  • The OSM Foundation has recently adopted a Diversity Statement which affirms support for expanding our diversity (in all its forms) in OSM.
  • The OpenStreetMap Foundation has also recently initiated a Diversity and Inclusion Special Committee. Its first task is to assist the Foundation (and hopefully the wider OpenStreetMap project & community) to identify imbalances in the community. To do so, it will gather and assess existing research, and collect any additional necessary data. It will then look at the causes, both internal and external, of imbalances, recommend actions to address them, and in due time evaluate their impact.

Ensuring safe and welcome participation at international OSM conference

  • The OSM Foundation organises the annual, international (State of the Map) conference, which has a “Code of Conduct”, ensuring that a wide range of participants feels safe and welcome.

Granting scholarships to the annual conference

  • The OSM Foundation has a scholarship program providing support to community members who cannot afford to travel to the international State of the Map conference. Gender is a core consideration in the selection process.

The OpenStreetMap Foundation is interested to increase the diversity in general and to attract marginalized groups of people and people outside the gender binary, not just women.

Community efforts

Please note that the list is not meant to be complete.

Mapping in support of women and girls

  • The community has created and maintains a page dedicated to mapping in support of women and girls. You can find it at and it lists some points of interest that are related to women’s health, safety or life that can be mapped. Lit roads, gynaecologists, toilets for females and vending machines that dispense feminine hygiene products are a few examples of things that can be mapped.

We would like to emphasize that OpenStreetMap is based on mapping freedom and anyone can map almost any object with geographical qualities that is verifiable. So, if someone is interested in a feature that has not been mapped yet, they are free to create their own tags and add it to the database (it might be a good idea to discuss the created tags on the tagging mailing list to get feedback for potentially better tag options).

Specific communication channels

  • OSM is large, and made up of many smaller (sub-)communities. Many groups have been formed for people interested in this topic, which helps encourage members of that marginalized group participate in OSM. Geochicas is one example of this. Other examples are the communities formed around the Telegram channels RainbOSM and Geoladies (there is some overlap of participants).

Ensuring safe and welcome participation at events

  • There are many regional groups, which hold OpenStreetMap related events, and a “Code of Conduct” is common among them.

Electing women to the OSM Foundation board

  • Before December 2019, both the chairperson and the secretary of our Foundation were women. Board members are voted by the OSM Foundation membership.

Raising awareness

  • Participation of women in OSM, and diversity in general, is a subject frequently discussed in community channels, has been highlighted in talks by community members in SotM conferences and has led to actions by the OSM Foundation.

Reach out and support

  • Various local groups reach out to women and engage them in introductory OSM workshop, offering support afterwards.

Recognising the contribution of specific women OSMers

  • Every year, the community gives several OpenStreetMap Awards, to recognise and promote the work of various OSM members. In 2017 community members recognised the contributions of Geochicas and gave them the “Improving Latin America” award. In 2018 women OSMers won half of the awards given to individuals and last year’s “Expanding the Community” award went to Nathalie Sidibe for her inspiring work in Mali, the African region, and around the world.Thanks for reaching out and feel free to contact us for any clarifications.

Additional information provided on follow-up emails

  • Board names and link to biographies.
  • Number of OSM contributors as of December 2019 (1,4 million) and graph
  • Link to stats page
  • Short descriptions of OSMF and OSM
  • Some info about women who received an OSM award

Resulting article

Title and link: Visible  women': Feminist mappers bridge data gap in urban design

Date: 2020-03-07