Monday musings on Australian literature: Boosting women’s entries on Wikipedia
Have you heard or read about the large discrepancy in Wikipedia between biographical entries (or “individual profiles”) for women and for men? The actual figure is a bit fluid because, of course, Wikipedia is a dynamic site, but most researchers on the topic come up with a figure of around 15-20% as the percentage of biographical articles on women (versus men) in Wikipedia. Why is this? Well, the point Austen so succinctly made in the early nineteenth century seems as true today, 200 years later:
Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands.
In other words, men are also the main contributors to Wikipedia (about which I’ve written before). In fact, the percentage of women editors is less than or similar to the percentage of women’s biographical articles. The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reports that Wikipedia had “failed to meet its goal of increasing women’s participation on the website to 25 per cent by 2015”.
Now, it is probably true that men feature more heavily in the public sphere – more politicians, more world leaders, etc etc, are men. Consequently, we might expect some gender imbalance in biographical articles. But, we also know that many women of achievement are under-recognised and under-reported. Feminists have been highlighting this since Feminism’s Second Wave in the 1970s – and yet here, in 2017, we can identify large numbers of women in every field of endeavour who are not in Wikipedia.
Consequenlty, in recent years women have been taking action, by holding, for example, “edit-a-thons” to support and encourage the creation and upgrading of women’s entries in Wikipedia. On December 8 last year, as reported by SMH (linked above), some 400 new entries were created for women in an international edit-a-thon. Specific events were held, SMH says, in “Istanbul, Cairo, Dhaka, Jerusalem, Delhi, Abuja, London, Cardiff and Washington DC” and individuals also worked “from their own computers across the world”.
But, what about Australia?
Australia has not been missing from this action. In fact, in 2014, as reported by another SMH article, Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art hosted an edit-a-thon during which “volunteers gathered to edit and expand the paucity of Wiki pages on Australian female artists”. As well as creating new entries they worked on “improving their academic rigour by providing citations and references”. This is important work, because it enables Wiki’s users to be confident about what they read.
In August 2016, the ABC reports, a group of Australian female scientists took “part in a Wikibomb in an effort to be recognised for their contribution to Antarctic research”. The event took place “at the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research conference in Malaysia, 93 Wikipedia profiles were created and 20 were improved upon.” There was apparently also a Wikibomb-edit-a-thon event held in Melbourne in November last year.
And now, tomorrow, 28 March, Sydney University Press (SUP) and the university’s Fisher Library are holding an edit-a-thon “to improve the representation of Australian women in the world’s favourite reference work.” They’ve chosen March because it’s Women’s History Month. They have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and they are building an accessible document listing “notable” women in a wide variety of fields who need Wikipedia entries or whose entries need upgrading. It’s a wonderful list, including scientists, artists, activists, historians, botanists and even the odd writer! SUP urges people to come, even if they have no experience or training in Wikipedia editing, as they
will have roving helpers and a cheatsheet with everything you need to know to become a Wiki champion in just a few minutes. It’s going to be a collaborative and fun exercise that will involve EVERYONE.
I’d be there in a flash if I lived in Sydney. You do need to RSVP, so if you are in Sydney and are interested, do check the Facebook Page link I’ve given to see whether it is still possible to join. But, if you can’t, there’s nothing to stop you having a go at home. They give advice on how to do that too on their Facebook page, with links to various useful tutorials.
So, I wish them a very successful day and look forward to hearing the results.
Meanwhile, I would love to know if any of you contribute to Wikipedia – and, if so, what your experience has been? (I have written on this blog about one of my early experiences.)
PS: SUP shares on its Facebook page an Inside Story article reporting that the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) is looking for nominations for women to include in its online database, but that’s a topic, perhaps, for another day because the articles raises some interesting issues about “who” to include.