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Bridging the Gender Gap: A Report on Indian Language Wikimedia Communities

Posted by Bhuvana Meenakshi at Dec 31, 2020 12:00 AM |
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This research study documents the gender gap and bias in Indian language Wikimedia projects and communities, with a focus on participation by and content related to women contributors across diverse Wikimedia platforms. The research was undertaken by Bhuvana Meenakshi Koteeswaran, with editorial oversight and support by Puthiya Purayil Sneha, and additional inputs from Ambika Tandon and Sumandro Chattapadhyay.

 

The full report can be read here.

Also read this report on Wikimedia Meta-Wiki here.


This research project is a study of how various language communities in India perceive the gender gap in their own contexts, and how the understanding of this subject has varied over time. Wikimedia characterises ‘gender bias’ on its platforms as the fact  “that Wikipedia contributors are mostly male, the fact that relatively few biographies on Wikipedia are about women, and the concept that topics of interest to women are less well-covered.”[1] Studies done over the last several years have shown that ‘this gender gap’ results in not only a lesser number of women participants in Wikimedia events or number of edits by women, but also a range of such disparities in the active participation of men and women on various aspects of Wikimedia projects.These gaps vary depending on socio-cultural factors within diverse language communities, such as access to internet and digital technologies and public spaces by women, skill-building and training, labour and time available for voluntary work and development of friendly and accessible working environments.

Context and Methods

Previous research by Ting-Yi Chang (2018) and Eva Jadine Lannon (2013) undertaken with CIS-A2K indicate the existence of these disparities and knowledge gaps in Indian language Wikimedia communities, and emphasise that it is imperative to focus on not only representation but also quality of contributions on Wikimedia by individuals across the spectrum of gender and sexual identities. The research also offers incentives, possible outcomes and sustainable strategies needed to address this issue. In the last few years a lot more work has emerged on this issue in various language communities globally, and in India. Several Indian language communities have started to explore the need for focusing on gender gap and community health initiatives in their own contexts. Observations from these initiatives further reiterate  that this gap continues to exist and there is a need to study and better understand the reasons for its prevalence.

As part of this study, we interviewed 15 women respondents across 13 different Indian language Wikimedia communities (including English) who contribute to several Wikimedia projects, and conducted 2 Focus Group Discussions(FGDs). The FGDs were conducted with women students from two different arts and science colleges in Tamil Nadu. The interviews and FGDs primarily helped us understand their perceptions about gender gap, the challenges that they and/or their communities experience in terms of gender bias and also the interesting initiatives set up to address these problems, both in terms of content and participation.

Key Research Areas

The research focussed on three main thematic areas, namely:

Developing a better understanding of online participation - in terms of content created by women, content about women, and online engagement with communities.

As most of the engagement with Wikimedia projects is an online activity so an analysis of the accessibility of internet and other digital infrastructures, platforms and participation guidelines were discussed. Improvements on providing support and training to access platforms would help in furthering participation to contribute to Wikimedia projects and initiatives. Restrictions on offline meetings due to the COVID 19 pandemic has further spurred a lot of online meetings and engagement. Awareness and training on the use of virtual platforms along with friendly space policies could help in creating a structured online experience on Wikimedia for the women in the community.

Developing a better understanding of women’s offline community participation.

Offline participation by women contributors in Indian language Wikimedia communities is an ideal space for learning new skills, working on collaborative events like edit-a-thons or a general discussion among the members of the community. Preference for independent events, discussions such as women-only forums led by women leaders/mentors were suggested by the interviewees. The difficulty of managing voluntary work with professional and domestic responsibilities, and need for support with travel and participation in offline events are some of the challenges highlighted from the interviews.

Enhancing sustained participation of women contributors - identifying challenges with retention, infrastructural issues etc, and possibilities and strategies to address the same, and creating awareness on how women can be involved with all Wikimedia projects.

We tried to understand what are impediments to sustaining Wikimedia contributions by and about women, and possible strategies to address the same. These include the need to encourage more efforts in areas such as detailed documentation of metrics on gender and diversity, building more awareness within communities about gender gap/bias and building relevant technological and communication skills, and addressing community health and conflict management as an important area of work and engagement.

Learnings

The learnings from the study offered insights into several key aspects of the problem of gender gap on Wikimedia, such as the need to encourage sustainable contributions through multiple strategies addressing challenges faced by women and other marginalised groups engaging with Wikimedia projects. This includes efforts to build awareness about gender gap and bias in Indian language communities, undertaking training to address technological and communication gaps and skills, understanding and accommodating the different demands that women editors have on their time and labour with respect to professional, domestic and care work, and according more visibility and recognition towards their efforts on Wikimedia. In addition to this, recognising and actively working towards addressing systemic power asymmetries in online platforms, by creating friendly working environments and encouraging women participants to take ownership and lead initiatives would be imperative to foster long-term and productive engagement with Wikimedia. Based on these observations, the report also offers a set of recommendations, which  may also inform existing and emerging efforts to address the problem of gender bias and gender gap on Wikimedia platforms.

References

[1] “Gender Bias on Wikipedia”, Wikipedia, accessed November 29, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gender_bias_on_Wikipedia&oldid=991093125

 

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