Editing Women into History

In March, the U.S. Digital Service hosted a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon with the White House Domestic Policy Council and Gender Policy Council, Girls Who Code, Girls for Gender Equality, and Girls Inc. to improve Wikipedia profiles for underrepresented women in history.

To honor Women’s History Month in 2021, we asked how are women documented in history? Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia which regularly ranks among the top ten most widely-used websites in America, is often the first place one goes to find information about a person or an event. Yet, Wikipedia is battling a “content gender gap,” resulting from a significant lack of female editors and disproportionate coverage of men in Wikipedia profiles. Shockingly less than 10% of editors are women, and only 20% of people profiled in Wikipedia are women, which leads to a systemic bias in how we document history.

On March 29, the White House Domestic Policy Council, Gender Policy Council, and U.S. Digital Service partnered with Wikimedia DC, a regional office of the Wikimedia Foundation, to help improve the representation of women in the content and among the editor community.

The team enlisted the help of several leading nonprofits that promote the professional development of girls and young women, including Girls Who Code, Girls for Gender Equity, and Girls Inc. Together they committed to participate in a “Wikipedia Edit-a-thon” where they would spend hours learning how to edit pages and drafting new profiles for underrepresented women in history.

“I’ve been privileged to work with Girls Who Code, Girls for Gender Equity, and Girls Inc. in the past, so I knew they would be perfect organizations to take on this unusual challenge for Women’s History Month. As you’d expect, the girls came prepared, worked diligently, and knocked it out of the park.” Carissa Smith, Senior Advisor for the Office of Public Engagement at the White House

To prepare for the Edit-a-thon, the members of the U.S. Digital Service compiled a list of female scientists, technologists, activists, and artists who were missing on Wikipedia. They worked with the young women volunteers in advance of the Edit-a-thon to ensure there were ample citations to pass Wikipedia’s publishing requirements.

Zoom background for the Edit-a-thon by designer Martha Wilkes

On the day of the Edit-a-thon, the young women dedicated hours of their time, many of them while on spring break, to publishing roughly 40 new pages on Wikipedia.

“This Edit-a-thon accomplished two important goals: adding more profiles of highly accomplished women to Wikipedia and more importantly, showing young women that their voices matter. Who holds the pen affects how history is portrayed, so we have to strive to include more perspectives.” Leah Siskind, a Digital Service Expert at USDS

Thanks to Girls Who Code, Girls for Gender Equity, and Girls Inc., the male-dominated Wikipedia editor community now has 40 new published female editors. For those interested in fighting the gender content gap in Wikipedia, the Women in Red Wikiproject is a fantastic resource with hundreds of underrepresented women awaiting profiles — become a Wikipedia editor or even organize an Edit-a-thon today!

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