Group: Women's Caucus/Documentation/9.19.2009

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Minutes from the Summit on Women's Participation in Free Software

If you have questions, feel free to ask in IRC; #glofs on or email

September 19th, 2009

Attending: Mairin Duffy, Leslie Hawthorn, Adelaida McIntire, Deborah Nicholson, Stormy Peters (via phone), Hillary Rettig, Christine Spang, Hanna Wallach, Marina Zhurakhinskaya

Opening Statement: Our objective is to increase women's participation in the free software movement and work to make sexism in person or online unacceptable within our community. Women represent less than 2% of the free software movement, yet our participation is a pre-requisite for the movement's success. Having more women in our community advocating freedom will enrich our movement.

Things that we've already seen working within our community or within allied communities:

  • Funding initiatives that are earmarked for women
  • Women as recruiters and role models
  • Having men involved in initiatives to increase women's participation
  • Adopting cooperative participation ("I win when I empower you.") instead of competitive participation ("I win at your expense")
  • Women's dinners at the beginning of conferences
  • Taking out the "are you the best?" or "rockstar" language in calls for participation
  • The Gnome Foundation's "Women's Summer Outreach Program" (WSOP) which was a stipended and mentored program for women only

Things that aren't working:

  • The emphasis on coding and coding only eg. "Why are you here? You don't code."
  • Poorly worded outreach that depends on a highly technical background, Adelaida McIntire has already started a community project on to improve the way we communicate.


  • Women haven't been good at marketing themselves or their contributions
  • Internalized sexism


  • Feminist organizations and media outlets
  • The "center" of the movement, men who are already part of the movement and are feminists, but aren't sure how they could help increase women's participation
  • Men who aren't yet involved and don't write code, but may be interested in contributing to user freedom


Very short-term:

  • Recommend that the FSF review its advocacy materials and specifically replace the anti-DRM campaign Apple iTunes sticker with a design that doesn't propagate a sexual and fetishized image of women. ( Mairin offered to do a redesign! (The FSF has confirmed that they are no longer distributing this sticker.)
  • Monthly IRC meetings in #glofs on
  • Send the story of this summit to the feminist press, Adelaida has a good list.


  • A logo for this initiative
  • A women's website/resource that reaches across the disparate distro/project-specific women groups
  • Day long summit on women in free software this spring at the LibrePlanet conference, with an emphasis on free software as a social justice movement
  • Have the keynote be a woman from the social justice movement, Hillary has contacts
  • Speaker's Bureau - a list of women who are willing to speak about women in free software, send letters to the organizers of free software conferences recommending that they invite someone to speak about women's participation, make slides and materials available for use by other speakers
  • Partner with a youth development organization to find funding to teach girls (under 18) to use free software. Hillary knows how this sort of thing is done and where we'd want to start.
  • Given the disparity in the ages at which girls and boys receive their first computer, find funding or a donor to get computers to girls, starting at age 12. We envision a class that teaches girls to use their new computers, possibly as part of a program where they earn the computer. Keep in mind that this initiative is in part outreach to the parents of girls and a component of "internetting safely" could help us appeal to parents. Hillary has some examples of successful programs with tweens and teens. Leslie knows some places to look for funding/support.
  • A women in free software couch surfing network that would help defray women's costs for participating in conferences and workshops


  • Looking at other groups that are under-represented in free software based on race, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation
  • Compile case studies and stories from women about their involvement in the free software movement (include coding, documenting, designing, organizing, marketing) particularly stories about how we got into the

movement, why free software is freedom and connecting the dots between free software and other movements; anti globalization, anti free trade, anti corporatism, feminism, etc.

  • Set up and support a mentoring program for women (include coding, documenting, designing, organizing, marketing), must also include cultivating and supporting mentors
  • Research the effectiveness of our efforts and document it, Hanna is interested in this
  • Expanding the Gnome WSOP project in partnership with other free software projects

Resources that were mentioned:

  • "Don't think of an Elephant" by George Lakoff (on framing)
  • National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), especially on mentoring
  • Organizing people where they're at; read Saul Alinsky, Cesar Chavez
  • Hillary: is there something about Cooperative vs. Competitive power we could link to?