Social Equality and Free Software – BoF at DebConf20

Shortly after yesterday’s start of the Debian Conference 2020, I had the honor to participate in a BoF on social equality in free software, led by the OSI vice president and head of the FOSSASIA community, Hong Phuc Dang. The group of discussants consisted of OSS representatives from a wide variety of countries (India, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, Germany, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan).

After a short introduction by Hong Phuc we turned to a self-introduction and “what is equality for me” round. This brought up already a wide variety of issues that need to be addressed if we want to counter inequality in free software (culture differences, language barriers, internet connection, access to services, onboarding difficulties, political restrictions, …).

Unfortunately, on-air time was rather restricted, but even after the DebConf related streaming time slot was finished, we continued discussing problems and possible approaches for another two hours. We have agreed to continue our collaboration and meetings in the hope that we, in particular the FOSSASIA community, can support those in need to counter inequality.

Concluding, I have to say I am very happy to be part of the FOSSASIA community – where real diversity is lived and everyone strives for and tries to increase social equality. In the DebConf IRC chat I was asked why at FOSSASIA we have about a 50:50 quote between women and men, in contrast to the usual 10:90 predominant in most software communities including Debian. For me this boils down to many reasons, one being competent female leadership, Hong Phuc is inspiring and competent to a degree I haven’t seen in anyone else. Another reason is of course that software development is, especially in developing countries, one of the few “escape pods” for any gender, and thus fully embraced by normally underrepresented groups. Finally, but this is a typical chicken-egg problem, the FOSSASIA community is not doing any specific gender politics, but simply remains open and friendly to everyone. I think Debian, and in particular the diversity movement in Debian – can learn a lot from the FOSSASIA community. At the end we are all striving for more equality in our projects and in the realm of free software as a whole!

Thanks again for all the participants for the very inspiring discussion, and I am looking forward to our next meetings!

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