The wiki gender gap and Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month banner by Katie Crampton (WMUK). CC BY-S.A 4.0.

By Lucy Crompton-Reid, Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK.

Wikipedia’s vision is a world in which everyone has access to the sum of the world’s knowledge, but to do this, we must have representation from all the world’s voices. For the past five years Wikimedia UK has been working to address inequality and bias across the projects, with a key strategic aim being to increase the engagement and representation of marginalised people and subjects on Wikipedia. Whilst there are all sorts of ways in which structures of power and privilege can exclude people, during Women’s History Month we will be shining a light on the gender gap, and thinking critically about how women are represented on Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects. 

In a world where women are still systematically oppressed in many countries – and where, even in countries with gender equality written into the legislative framework, systemic bias still pervades – the ‘gender gap’ can feel like an intractable issue. We have seen how the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women, and deepened pre-existing inequalities, despite men being more likely to die from the disease. Globally, according to the UN, even the limited gains made in the past decade on issues such as education, early marriage and political representation are at risk of being rolled back. Here in the UK, a report by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee acknowledges the particular and disproportionate economic impact on people who are already vulnerable, and highlights how existing gendered inequalities have been ignored and sometimes exacerbated by the pandemic policy response. 

Within this context, working to increase and improve the representation of women, non-binary people and related subjects on Wikimedia is more important than ever. If ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ then we need to make sure that the world’s free knowledge resource – which is read more than 15 billion times a month – is telling everyone’s story. This includes women, people of colour, disabled people, LGBTQ+ folks and those living outside the United States and Western Europe. Those people, and those stories, exist – they don’t need to be written into Wikipedia to come alive. But for many of us, Wikipedia is the ‘first stop’ when we want to learn about the world. By writing women’s stories into Wikipedia and the wider information ecosystem – by making them more discoverable – we will be helping women around the world discover who they are and can be. 

People of any gender can, and do, commit time and energy to addressing gender inequality on Wikimedia. This might be by creating new articles about women, training new female editors, raising awareness of the gender gap or myriad other things. Increasingly, editing Wikipedia is being recognised as a form of knowledge activism which helps to address gaps in information, and generate discussions about how knowledge and information is created, curated and contested online. 

Fixing the gender gap on Wikimedia is a huge challenge. Much has been written about the reasons for this, as well as the many initiatives and tools that have been developed to try to address the lack of parity on Wikipedia and the other Wikimedia projects. I’m not going to repeat that here, but instead I’m going to introduce some of the extraordinary people involved in this work. I’m pleased and proud that Wikimedia UK will be talking to the following four amazing women as part of a special Women’s History Month series of interviews, with one video to be released every Monday in March:

  • Kira Wisniewski, Executive Director of Art+Feminism – an intersectional feminist non-profit organisation that directly addresses the information gap about gender, feminism, and the arts on the internet. 
  • Dr Rebecca O’Neill, Project Co-ordinator at Wikimedia Ireland, Vice-Chair of Women in Technology and Science Ireland and Secretary of the National Committee for Commemorative Plaques in Science and Technology.
  • Dr Victoria Leonard – Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Postdoctoral Researcher in Late Ancient History and Founder and Co-Chair of the Women’s Classical Committee – who will be talking about her work to increase the visibility of women in classics on Wikipedia, through #WCCWiki.
  • Dr Alice White, Digital Editor at Wellcome Collection and former Wikimedian in Residence at Wellcome Library. 

I will be giving the final interview in March to round up the series and reflect on the future priorities, challenges and opportunities for Wikimedia and the gender gap.

Recognising our own privilege when it comes to knowledge and information is important. I feel very privileged to be writing this blogpost for Women’s History Month for Wikimedia UK; to have this platform when so many women’s voices aren’t heard. On that note, if there’s anything you would like me to include in my interview later this month, please let me know. I’m keen to hear about and to showcase all the different ways in which people and communities are addressing underrepresentation on Wikimedia, so please contact me on info@wikimedia.org.uk or by twitter (@lcromptonreid) if you would like me to share your story.

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