Bridging the wiki gender gap | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: July 19, 2024

BY THE OPTIMIST DAILY EDITORIAL STAFF

In a bustling feminist bookstore in Madrid, 17 women gathered to address one of the internet’s most persistent gender disparities. These ladies, members of Spain’s Wikiesfera, worked hard to enhance women’s representation on Wikipedia, a platform where roughly 15 percent of volunteer editors are women and less than a fifth of content is about women.

“The numbers are pretty terrifying,” said Patricia Horrillo, who has been leading efforts to correct the disparity for nearly a decade. Horrillo founded Wikiesfera, a group dedicated to increasing the visibility of women on Wikipedia, by building a community of dedicated editors. “For the first time, civil society has the power to make women visible,” Horrillo said. “History has always been told by those in power – now we have that power.”

Wikiesfera is part of a global movement that includes groups such as Whose Knowledge? in the United States, WikiDonne in Italy, and Les Sans Pages in Switzerland, all of which aim to enhance Wikipedia’s gender balance.

The foundations of inequality: a historical overview

The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, acknowledges gender prejudice on its platform. “Wikipedia is powered by humans, so it is vulnerable to human biases,” the foundation states. Historically, Wikipedia has been predominantly edited by men who rely on previously published information. Unfortunately, many of these sources have historically excluded women, resulting in major gaps in documenting women’s accomplishments.

This gender disparity has long been observed, motivating the Wikimedia Foundation to fund organizations such as Wikiesfera in their efforts to address it. These efforts seek to acknowledge and preserve women’s contributions by encouraging civil society to contribute to the world’s largest encyclopedia.

Creating change: the role of the community

Wikiesfera members meet regularly to produce and translate Wikipedia entries about well-known women. “We’re writing history today, right here,” said Encina Villanueva, a dedicated participant since 2016. Villanueva frequently changes existing pages to emphasize women’s accomplishments rather than their attractiveness or ties with notable men.

Celia Hernández-García, another Wikiesfera member, attended her first event in 2017, after discovering the group online. Hernández-García, a secondary school teacher, had struggled to obtain female-focused coursework for her students. “At one point I sat down with a textbook and went through all the references of men and women – the difference was mind-blowing,” she recalled. Wikiesfera provided her with a clear approach to addressing this imbalance.

The encouraging environment that Horrillo promotes is critical. She explains that many women are hesitant to contribute because they question their abilities to “write history.” Horrillo’s objective for Wikiesfera is to provide the motivation and guidance required to overcome these doubts. The group’s focus on women came naturally, allowing Horrillo to combine her passions for technology and advocacy.

Forming the future: education and influence

Wikiesfera’s activities attract men and women of various ages, with the majority being women aged 40 to 60. “These are women who have time, often they don’t have children or dependants,” Horrillo noted. This demographic insight is critical, as the time-intensive nature of editing Wikipedia is a significant barrier for many potential female editors.

Other obstacles have been identified through research, including a scarcity of reputable sources detailing women’s achievements and a higher risk of women’s biographies being recommended for deletion. Despite these challenges, Horrillo continues determined to include women in Wikipedia. “What we’re doing is super important because there’s nothing like Wikipedia,” she said.

During a recent session, the group contributed 33 entries to Wikipedia, including a page about Luisa Roldán, Spain’s first known female sculptor, and a Spanish-language translation of an impressionist painting by Marie Bracquemond. Horrillo describes each entry as a tiny but crucial step toward resolving the historical institutions that have oppressed women.

“You have to start somewhere,” she said. “It’s a way to fight injustice, but without being overwhelmed. If you start to ask what can I do to change the world, the answer is a bit complicated. But this is something that is within our grasp.”

Wikiesfera’s efforts are more than just adding content; they are rewriting history to include women’s perspectives and achievements. They are creating a more inclusive and accurate historical record, one Wikipedia page at a time.

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