History has a gender gap problem. How free knowledge and open tech can help.
Join Wikimedia Foundation for #WikiHerStory this Women’s History Month
To celebrate Women’s History Month, the Wikimedia Foundation has launched #WikiHerStory, an initiative to raise awareness and generate solutions for closing the gender gap on Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects. Wikimedia’s Anusha Alikhan shares more and how to get involved below.
Greta Thunberg’s first act of public protest in support of stronger climate change protections took place in August 2018, as a single activist at a self-organized high-school strike during the hottest summer in Sweden. Alaa Salah became a symbol of the anti-government protests in Sudan in April 2019, when a photo of her standing on a car leading chants went viral on social media. In January, 13-year-old diversity advocate Naomi Wadler spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos about leading a walk-out of her Washington, D.C., elementary school to bring attention to the young black girls who had lost their lives to gun violence.
Shortly after these young women made their stands, each of them had their own Wikipedia articles, supported by a rush of related news and commentary. These articles have since been edited a multitude of times to reflect their lives and ongoing work.
In a world that has regularly omitted the acts, inventions, accomplishments, and activism of women, and, in particular, women of color, from history, this rapid recording of the actions of previously unknown young women, and the close documenting of their growing influence, reveals the power of our digital knowledge landscape.
“The Internet, as it exists today, serves as a reminder of the pervasive gender gap in the telling of our past that needs to be corrected.”
Today, we have the ability to capture and update information and spread it faster than ever before. More than that, we approach the sharing of knowledge with a new digital mindset, aware of our own agency to elevate important stories and people.
Efforts are underway to unearth the lost legacies of women — from projects aimed at showcasing the contributions of African American suffragists and documenting the feats of women scientists, to moves by major publications such as National Geographic, BBC and the New York Times, to correct the record. Digitization is allowing conservationists, historians, and others to better collaborate, discover information faster, and get easier access to resources.
At the same time, technology has not fulfilled its promise to provide an equal playing field for all ideas and people. It reflects the biases of our world back to us. Among the myriad of challenges with which we are currently grappling, the Internet, as it exists today, serves as a reminder of the pervasive gender gap in the telling of our past that needs to be corrected.
At the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, we believe in technology’s power to connect, build bridges, and share stories and truths that might otherwise go untold. We were born to meet that goal.
We are also acutely aware of the chasm that needs to be filled to close the gender divide that persists within our projects. The latest data says that fewer than 20 percent of editors on Wikipedia identify as women. Further, more men than women have tried to edit Wikipedia at least once according to data from a newly-released Women and Wikipedia survey spanning six regions and languages. The same survey showed that 27 percent of male respondents had edited Wikipedia at least once, compared to only 21 percent of female respondents. (For more research on the gender gap on Wikipedia, check out this resource).
Starting with Women’s History Month this March, we’re recognizing these challenges and highlighting the amazing Wikipedia volunteer-led projects and individuals that are here to address them. We’ll be using #WikiHerStory on social media to spread these important stories. We’re also sharing ways that you can get involved.
“At Wikimedia, we believe in technology’s power to connect, build bridges, and share stories and truths that might otherwise go untold.”
As part of the initiative, you’ll hear about projects such as Wiki Loves Women — a multi-country project that encourages participation and representation of women and girls across Africa on Wikimedia projects; and Art+Feminism, which has run more than 500 events to address the information gap about gender, feminism, and the arts on the internet.
You’ll also learn about partners and collaborators who are joining us in this work, such as UN Human Rights, which is working with the Wikimedia Foundation and our global affiliates to host events and improve knowledge about women human rights defenders and gender equity on Wikipedia. We’ll introduce you to amazing women like Dr. Jess Wade who contribute to Wikimedia projects — either by editing articles, organizing events, or providing technical expertise.
Importantly, we invite you to get involved in the new #WikiHerStory initiative. Anyone, anywhere who cares about inclusion and gender equity is encouraged to participate.
Here’s how to get involved:
- Join an event (virtually or in-person) for Women’s History Month.
- Add and improve articles on Wikipedia about women and their work. (Need ideas? Here are lists to get started and tips on editing Wikipedia.)
- Follow the Wikimedia Foundation on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to follow along with the campaign throughout March.
- Help promote #WikiHerStory on social media using these posts and graphics.
- Sign up for email updates about Wikimedia’s gender equity efforts.
- Learn more about the gender gap on Wikipedia with our latest research and news.
With the goal of delivering the sum of all knowledge to the world, Wikimedia projects hold tremendous potential to change and grow. We’re seeing great progress thanks to the work of volunteer editor communities and affiliates around the world. The number of women’s biographies on Wikipedia is on the rise.
We are also fortunate to have a concentration of women leaders within the movement, who are making strides to change gender disparities in our projects. When it comes to affiliates in the Wikimedia movement, 64 percent of affiliate members are women. At the Foundation, about 67 percent of our senior leadership identify as women, including our Executive Director, Katherine Maher.
“While technology has not accomplished its goal as a great equalizer, we believe that free knowledge can get us there.”
A main pillar of our movement, as defined by Wikimedia staff and global volunteers as part of our 2030 direction, is to create a welcoming, diverse, and thriving community that is representative of the world we live in. As part of this work, a group of dedicated volunteers and affiliates is now finalizing a series of recommendations to address greater diversity, representation, and equity in Wikimedia projects.
There is still much more to do, and we need your help. While technology has not accomplished its goal as a great equalizer, we believe that free knowledge can get us there.
Please join us by getting involved in #WikiHerStory this month and help ensure women are represented in all their diversity, experience, and wisdom on the world’s largest free knowledge resource.
Anusha Alikhan is Senior Director of Communications at the Wikimedia Foundation, where she leads strategies to strengthen the foundation’s impact and reach, and advance its goal to promote free knowledge everywhere. Additionally, Anusha is a writer and speaker on topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion in the nonprofit sector. You can follow her on Twitter at @AnushaA100.