By John Lubbock, Wikimedia UK Communications Coordinator
I’ve worked at Wikimedia UK since 2016, managing their social media, press, content and general communications. During that time, the gender gap issue has become increasingly salient, especially with the media attention generated by Dr Jess Wade, a British research scientist who has written hundreds of biographical Wikipedia pages.
Jess started editing Wikipedia after attending a training workshop given by Dr Alice White, who was employed as the Wellcome Library’s Wikimedian in Residence, and is now Digital Editor at the Wellcome Collection. Wikimedia UK pioneered the use of Wikimedians in Residence, with the first ever WiR being hosted at the British Museum in 2010. Through promoting the use of Wikimedians in Residence and demonstrating their results, Wikimedia UK has punched above its weight as a chapter within the Wikimedia community, helping to release hundreds of thousands of images and show Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAMs), and also Universities, how they can use Wikipedia as a platform to gain a huge audience for their content.
Dr Wade, as well as a number of Wikimedians in Residence who have worked on the gender gap issue, feature prominently in our video, and add greatly to the impact that Wikimedia UK’s work has had in the past few years. Alone, we are just a small charity with 10 staff, but our allies and our community multiply the impact of our work greatly.
The knowledge that Wikipedia suffers from inadequacies and gaps in its coverage has pushed our community hard to try to redress the imbalances in content and contributors to Wikimedia projects. We have started to run Wikipedia training workshops for speakers of other languages, and especially to organise events aimed at encouraging contributions from women and LGBT+ groups.
Since the end of 2018 I have been slowly filming interviews and events which help to explain the breadth of work going on in the UK to help close the gender gap on Wikimedia projects. Wikimedia UK works across the country, so that we are not too London-centric an organisation. We have strong communities in Wales and Scotland, and support the Celtic languages to allow them to thrive in the digital era.
In Wales, this has been so successful that Welsh Wikipedia, Wicipedia Cymraeg, is the most viewed website in Welsh on the internet, and passed 100,000 articles in 2018. Wikipedia training was even included in the Welsh curriculum, and WiciMon, a group based in Northern Wales, has been training high school students in numerous schools. These younger groups are much more gender balanced than most Wikipedia communities, and there is also parity in biographical articles in Welsh between men and women.
There is so much work going on across different groups in the UK to address the gender gap, with groups like the Women’s Classical Committee and Women in Engineering running regular sessions, that sometimes it’s hard to see that at the root of this work, our chapter is often there helping with training and organising. It has not been easy to get the media’s attention on the work that we do to fix issues like the gender gap, because this work is not particularly glamourous and doesn’t make for clickbait headlines.
The intention of this film is therefore to show the media, and the wider Wikimedia community, how much effort Wikimedia UK staff, Wikimedians in Residence, and volunteers have put into improving Wikipedia’s coverage of underrepresented groups, and particularly women, over the last 4 years.
Wikipedia and Wikimedia charities often get criticised for not doing enough to fix sexism on our sites and within our communities. Clearly we have a long way to go, and there is much more to be done, but I hope that this film will show people what we are in fact doing, and how much we care about this issue.
The great promise of Wikimedia projects is that anybody can get involved in them and change them. The reality we experience is that over 40% of the world still has no internet access, and among those who do, there is a huge difference in levels of access. In less economically developed countries, millions of new internet citizens are coming online each day, and people in countries like the UK have a historical obligation to use our privilege to help people in countries with less resources redress this balance.
The gender gap problem is part of an intersectional network of inequalities in access to power and resources. As a community, Wikimedians must ensure that we do not repeat the unequal structures of power on which our technology is based. Fundamentally, we cannot fix gender inequality overnight, or the structure of power on which its is based. We can, however, help democratise access to those resources, especially those necessary for people to become educated.
‘You cannot be what you cannot see’, is a phrase often repeated by our community. I just searched Google images for the word ‘scientist’, and out of 40 people in the images that immediately appeared, 19 were women, 21 men. The first image in the list is the image that illustrates the Wikipedia page ‘Scientist’, and features two non-white people, one male and one female.
The proportion of biographical articles on English Wikipedia about women has increased from 14% to 18% since about 2015. If this proportion were to continue to increase by 1% a year, we could reach parity by 2051. It may be that complete parity is never achievable, due to the paucity of historical sources about women, but I think that these successes go to show that we are winning this fight, even if it feels like slow progress sometimes.
Communicating the work of a local Wikimedia chapter is hard work, but all of us at Wikimedia UK are extremely proud of what we have been able to achieve since the chapter began 10 years ago. Even if few journalists at big media companies pay attention to what we are doing, we know that what we are doing is changing things, and making the internet a better place for every digital citizen who has to share it in future.