Women, let's start editing Wikipedia

Women, let's start editing Wikipedia

Women, let's start editing Wikipedia

Wikipedia would like to think it is the 'sum of the world's knowledge', but it is missing input from much of the world’s population: women.

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia, to which everyone can edit and contribute, has become one of the world’s largest and most trusted sources of information. For many of its users, it is also the guardian of a 21st century ideal of open democracy and open internet culture: the idea that everyone can write, edit and curate information in a global network of knowledge.

But what kind of knowledge does Wikipedia actually produce and for whom?

Recent research by the Wikipedia Foundation showed that the platform is in fact the product of a specific demographic group: western, educated, white males (a far cry from the collaborative equality Wikipedia’s founders strived for).

In 2011, surveys suggested that women accounted for less than 15% (at most) of the platform’s contributors, whilst other minority groups had less access and less contribution to the platform.

Wikipedia’s lack of diversity raises significant challenges. The platform’s share of female contributors is significantly smaller than other media sources in the Global North. Recent research by the American Women’s Media Centre found that women only write a third of the American media content - still at least twice as much as Wikipedia. Although Wikipedia differs from standard media sources, the comparison of female representation demonstrates that Wikipedia is still far from the egalitarian ideal it aims to follow.

Furthermore, it shows the restrictions an open platform approach can possess: collaboration and contribution by a specific group, such as white, educated men’s dominance in Wikipedia.  

Beyond equity challenges, the bigger issue, though, is that this significant lack of diversity directly affects the type of content produced: Wikipedia has a shortage of entries on women. This is because men write less about women, female issues and ‘female’ interests.

They also edit fewer topics covering women, leading to significantly shorter and poorer articles on females. Consider this example: I tried to look up the London School of Economics’ faculty on Wikipedia. Although it is a relatively small sample, it is worth looking at. Out of the 67 individuals listed on the LSE directory, 10 are women, producing a ratio of 0.149 (a poor one indeed).

Yet, while 17 of the 57 male professors listed have a Wikipedia page, none of the single female professors have one, creating a ratio of 0.

Surprising? Not really. Alarming? Very. Women working in scientific and technological fields are generally represented less on Wikipedia. However, if they are granted the privilege of a Wikipedia page, their duties as wives and mothers to someone are highlighted upon, rather than their achievements.

So, what can be done to change this systemic bias?

In 2011, the Wikipedia Foundation set out a goal to increase the proportion of female editors to 25% in four years. However, most attempts to quantify change in recent years have produced mixed results: women are still opting to leave Wikipedia, rather than contribute to it.  

Most women abandon Wikipedia because the platform is created in a similar manner to a Silicon Valley product: it caters to a male-dominated demographic. This means more content, culture and processes aimed at men. A lot of women have indicated that they don’t edit Wikipedia because they find the platform unfriendly and difficult to use. Moreover, they also find it difficult to contribute to articles previously edited and written by men because they don’t have the adept IT knowledge required to do so.

Wikipedia's main female contributor- Adrienne Wadewitz.  She edited about 50,000 articles and was a feminist.

Wikipedia's main female contributor- Adrienne Wadewitz.  She edited about 50,000 articles and was a feminist.

Due to men’s prevalence in the It field, especially coding, it can be perceived that Wikipedia may possess a more technological problem rather than a systemic bias. The reason is simple: as long as women don’t code as much as men, they won’t make up for half of the knowledge online.

But why exactly don’t we, women, code as much as men and how can this change? Do we need friendlier platforms or some kind of mind-set change? In a recent feature on this subject, Jenny Kleenan of the New Statesman argues that our tendency to write less could also stem from our lack of confidence in what we want to write. ‘I can’t help thinking that if women were more confident about asserting their knowledge, they’d feel more at home on Wikipedia’.

In any case, it all boils down to one, sad fact: amazing women whom contribute to history every day may be forgotten in the future because they aren’t featured on Wikipedia.

We are relying on an inherently biased browser to research information on a daily basis. I see two options to remedy this current crisis: we can either look for another go-to source of information or start editing the Wikipedia pages as much as men. I will certainly start editing it myself.

Lucile Stengel comes from Paris and currently lives in London, where she pursues a career in cultural insight. In her spare time, she is a media officer at Lensational, a non-profit aiming to empowering women through photography. Her experience with Lensational has given her a broad understanding of women empowerment issues in the developing world, and a passion for writing about social change. In addition to writing for Her Culture, Lucile is a writer contributor at Just A Platform, a collaborative newspaper based in London. 

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