Three weeks ago we facilitated a session at the Open Government Praetorship Summit where we read anecdotes of women in the Open Government space. This holiday season, we are sharing them here with you, our readers, so that these stories will spread light about women in this space and in the world.
We publish the stories as they are, with almost no edits, as this is the true representation of their voices. Many of the women in the community do not speak English as a first language (including the author of this post), so please excuse us for the bad grammar, rather, please look at it as the beauty of the diversity of the open government movement.
Lastly, some of these stories are anonymous, since we wanted to share as much as possible. We hope that as we grow stronger, more women would like to come forward with their names.
Here they are, in no particular order…
Anonymous writer: “I found out that a male colleague whose position was one management level above mine made 20% more than my female boss — who was at this same management level. When my boss left, I was promoted into this same management level. I still only managed to negotiate to 90% of my former female bosses’ salary.”
Edafe Onerhime: “Women as the gentler sex? I joined a charitable organisation and was excited to be making a difference in people’s lives. Unfortunately they hired me to reduce the testosterone in the team...”
Anonymous writer: “I have been in the space for years. I am well known in the region and have led many initiatives. Still, I see my male colleagues up on stage while I wonder why I wasn’t invited to the panel. I see my male colleagues on that stage time and time again, stage after stage, while other women and myself work on new projects, with new partners, and never presenting the work we’re doing. It feels as though we are forgotten because we never made it to the limelight. The men — some who claim to be feminists, others who really are — are supportive in their discourse, but few actually support their words with actions. They’re not willing to step out of the limelight to make room for other actors.”
Paulina Bustos: “I’m a Engineer. I don’t use my title very much and most of the time ask people to call me directly by my name, something that is not very common in Mexico. However, Governments ussualy assume I have the soft skills in my team and call me “Licenciada”, I wouldn’t care that much of my male colleagues were not immediately defaulted to Engineers. My male colleagues said I’m overreacting, but it is only their male privilege speaking. They don’t feel how governments officials prefer to talk to them and usually assume they know what to do, while my opinions get often overlooked.”
Anonymous writer: “It is VERY challenging to carry the role of being the only woman who is active in this field looking at fiscal data packages for government spending without having basic tech knowledge (I’m learning as I go) while living in a country with an authoritarian government that claims to be pro democracy, pro transparency and anti corruption but have zero idea on what open and transparent are let alone open data. Situation is not great at all in this country in matters on freedom of information and expression. Justice is absent and perpetrators still walk free. There are no proper trials begin, let alone fair trials. Open government is a contentious area in this country and in this region. All of the accountability pillars are crumbling down. With all of these constraint environments, capacity building is a problem in this country, more specifically tech capacity building. There is only one civic tech organisation while other 100+ NGOs are rights based organisations that have zero tech capacity. None of these rights based organisations have the initiative to learn basic tech, let alone to learn how to collaborate together with other organisations. You see the struggles here? With great knowledge comes with great responsibility. Despite having such a supportive team which I am grateful to that until to this day, I feel, if there is something happens to all of us team members, who is going to continue our work while sharing common goals? Who is going to carry this baton with us? Thinking about that is scary. I am terrified for myself and my team members because when you’re in this field, you will see more serious corruption issues that no ordinary citizens would see, not even covered in the mainstream media. In a greater scheme of things, we might be in trouble if we finally get to connect the dots, from contracts to budgets to off budgets/concessions to parliamentary documents to social audit. There is a serious risk if we look into serious corruption issues that are rarely covered in the mainstream media. I hope we’ll be safe in the next 2 years, I hope we get the funding we need to continue our work. We can’t do this alone. I can’t do this alone. God, help us.”
Anonymous writer: “I have been in the space for years. I am well known in the region and have led many initiatives. Still, my story as founder or as the leader of these initiatives have been quietly swept under the rug. Not so for my male colleagues. As I don’t want to seem pretentious or ruffle any feathers, I didn’t say anything, not until late. But it took a long to for me to be able to stand up for myself and give myself credit where credit is due. Why should only the white cis male founder (unfortunately that’s most of the founders in this space) be able to where their organization or project proudly on their crew cut sweatshirt? This process of getting over the classic “imposter syndrome” takes time. Some women leave the space before ever stripping themselves of that extra weight. Let’s collectively take ownership of our work and support others to do so too!”
Anonymous writer: “When I first got involved in the open government space, this was a new field for everyone. I was young, I hadn’t had much previous work experience, but I worked very hard to balance out this inexperience. Still, my male bosses and coworkers judged me, laughed at me, and made fun of me on multiple occasions. Needless to say, this well known organization was not a supportive, nurturing, empowering environment. I was lucky enough to work with strong, determined women who provided me with a sort of safety net from this bullying. But there was this one boss who was abusive, verbally and emotionally. The only times he ever spoke to me, he made it evident he wasn’t interested in what I was saying, that it wasn’t relevant. Or worse, he would belittle me, he would yell at me, he would make sure I knew I did everything wrong and nothing right. I can’t even remember the number of times I would go home crying, debating if I should quit my job or not. The thing is, after years of processing this, I believe this man was simply insecure that I was doing the job better than he could. He was threatened by me and thought that the best — and easiest — way to deal with his insecurities was to make *me* feel that insecurity. Abusive male bosses. I’m sure this isn’t the only story we’ll hear about this.”
Anonymous writer: “I know this is not connected only to the open government world, but it did happen while I was working in the space.. After I told my boss (who is male) that I had a miscarriage and that it is a sensitive time, he asked two weeks later, if I can take care of a maternity present to one of our employees who just gave birth. It took him a minute to realise that he should have not asked me that. We should be sensitive to women challenges in this field as well.”
Cecile Le Guen: “I can share my experience of being a lesbian in the Open Government Space. While my experience is not limited to the Open Government Space and is certainly shared by many other women in other professional spaces, it stands where being out is a risk to my professional credibility. I can pass for straight, I have long hair and what can be perceived as rather a feminine attitude (which I don’t like calling it this way, but is another discussion) Most of the international meetings I attend are dominated by straight men coming from many different cultures, and who also assume I am straight. I quite often also have to attend dinners or social events while in a conference, a workshop or a summit. I know I have to lie about myself in order to avoid confrontation, discomfort from the other persons, or homophobic comments. Sometimes, those events take place in a country where homosexuality is criminalized, where homosexuals are persecuted, arrested and jailed. Attending such dinners and lying by omission about who I am, socializing with people that are directly expressing their homophobia to me and to an audience who agrees, is something I tend to struggle with. While I know how to argue against it in my western white culture and have no issues of doing as an activist, I know I just can’t act the same way in other places. I still haven’t figure out what to do in those situations, I just know being out will directly affect my professional life in those moments.”
Anonymous writer: “I don’t know if it’s a story of any importance, but there was one moment I felt really awkward at one of the big OD events, when, while having a chat with a guy representing World Bank, he was so uninterested in what I have to say and keep on staring at my breasts, even when he was speaking, he kept on looking below my head too. It felt strange and of course since then I try to avoid the guy. It was however the only moment I remember that was connected to my gender, besides my own self-control of not being to emotional and girly, because it would be unprofessional.”
Oriana Oviedo: “Descubrir el Gobierno Abierto, ha significado para mi vida, esperanza. Hastiada de lo público, de la impotencia de ser parte de un sistema viciado, corrupto, que pareciera no tener arreglo, dejé todo por seguir mi pasión: Gobierno Abierto. En esta luz, encontré un propósito, algo a que aferrarme y volcar toda mi voluntad y ganas de aportar a los cambios que necesita el mundo. Descubrí el Gobierno Abierto gracias a mi amor por el estudio y la investigación, las redes sociales eran mi laboratorio, ahora son el espacio donde puedo tener una voz y compartir las buenas prácticas de la comunidad OGP, con la esperanza de inspirar. Ahora vivo en otro país, llegue con ganas de aprender, de colaborar, pero ha sido muy duro ver como la participación se convirtió en otro círculo cerrado de poder, donde tienen acceso pocos, y si eres de un país al sur de sus fronteras los muros se vuelven aún más grandes de escalar. A pesar de todo no desfallezco, a través de Cultura 52, estoy construyendo las respuestas al gran COMO construir una Cultura de Gobierno Abierto. Acuérdense que el fin último de la OGP es: “fomentar una cultura de gobierno abierto que empodere y brinde resultados a los ciudadanos, y promueva los ideales del gobierno abierto y participativo del Siglo XXI”. Aquí estoy, soy Oriana Oviedo Ojeda y seguiré dibujándome las puertas y abriéndome los caminos.”
Anonymous writer: “I have worked in the open data space since I graduated from campus 4 years ago. In this time, between the long hours, plenty of tears and standing up to sexism in the space, I have finally found my voice and keep working to make it heard.
In these 4 years, I have been told that ‘If I wasn’t a woman, I wouldn’t have grown this fast in the space’ , that ‘my original pay was a misappropriation of funds by previous directors and a pay cut was necessary’, that ‘as a woman, I only needed to do half as much work as any man to get double the amount of recognition’.
Also, in these 4 years, I have managed to effect change in data communities across the continent by running much data literacy workshops, sharing knowledge both offline and online and inviting communities to converse about real issues and plausible solutions.
At the end of the day, I pursue excellence, and allow the negativity to serve as a push, rather than an obstacle, while of course, embracing wise counsel, learning from others and mentoring as many as I can.”
Anonymous writer: “You don’t need 200 words. Everyday we advocate for more transparency and accountability, to empower people with information, fight inequality and injustice. And yet, we fight these battles internally and across our own sector, for our voices to be heard and our work to be recognised and our pay to reflect that. The irony is not lost on me. The status quo must be challenged. I’ve just been through a year long struggle to push for promotion. They told me, “No”, and expected me to just accept it like a good little girl. But I didn’t, I shared my story with my colleagues, I led the call for pay transparency internally and crowdsourced my own pay data. And I won. But there’s many more battles to be fought.”
Emily Shaw: An open government is a government that is transparent, participatory, and collaborative. Although we thought we were making strides, the US election show us how far we really were from our goal. The winning side was able to block transparency and leave the public in the dark. The election unleashed a horrifying rise in harassment of girls and people of color, something we had already seen happen online, reducing their ability to participate in public. Our future government will “collaborate” all right, but seemingly exclusively with people willing to fill the president’s personal coffers, while the rest of us have been warned we’ll be stripped of our citizenship for protesting. When government ceases to be open, we must fill in by opening ourselves. In this movement we must become more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. It is crucial for those of us with a seat at the table, no matter what table it is, to recognize that if we are already lucky enough to have a seat, there are others who need our spot more. Who is not yet there, from the immigrant community? What races, religions and economic classes are represented at the table? What sexualities and genders are present? Invite those missing. When we fail to do that, we merely replicate the politics of exclusion that the Western world has begun so enthusiastically to embrace.