Preliminary research result on Wikipedia gender gap in India

Since June 2016, Ting-Yi Chang from the University of Toronto has worked with the CIS-A2K team to conduct action research on the Wikipedia gender gap in India. The research aims to improve the understanding of the gender gap (imbalance) issue in the Indian Wikipedia communities while examining local interventions.
Preliminary research result on Wikipedia gender gap in India

Infographics on survey results (click to zoom in)

This post is an extraction from the Wikipedia Gender Gap Bridging Toolkit - South Asia Edition which will be published on Wiki (Commons and meta) in late May 2017. The toolkit is a derivative of the gender gap research initiative.

Wikipedia has a wide gender gap in participation and content coverage. The editor survey in 2011 showed that among the active editors worldwide only 9% identified themselves as female. While research and initiatives have been proposed and conducted to “bridge the gender gap,” mass majority of these studies are done in the Western context (English/European language Wikipedias and communities). The movement dynamics and situation of other Wikipedian communities are not well explored or documented. Of the few studies that did focus on non-Western contexts, this action research is one of the few to look at the issue in India.

Due to the timeline of the research and the limitation of space in this post, we will only discuss the preliminary findings of the study, specifically for the following questions:

Q1: What are existing female Wikipedians’ (regardless of one’s activeness in editing) experience in the Wikimedian communities?

Q2: What are new female Wikipedians’ (who participated in gender gap bridging events) attitude and preference toward these gender gap bridging activities?


In Q1, we used open coding to find recurring themes in the qualitative data collected through 18 semi-structured interviews with 21 female Wikipedians, and label them to find certain patterns of answers. To answer question 2, discussion and infographics will be presented to summarize the 64 survey responses we have gathered.

Q1: What are existing female Wikipedians’ experience in the Wikimedian communities?

Western-based research and survey has shown that a plausible reason behind the gender gap on Wikipedia is the discriminatory and unwelcoming environment within the editor communities. Research was much needed to explore the reasons in the Indian context as we cannot simply apply the same results or rule out the possibility of the same situation. Among the 9 reasons that Sue Gardner, the former Executive Director of WMF, had pointed out in her 2011 blog post, we deem the “misogynist atmosphere” as the most problematic - it signals an unhealthy environment and structure for diversity and long term growth.

Thus, 18 private interviews were held to understand the positive and negative experience that existing female (Indian) Wikipedians have faced in the communities. In this question we are specifically looking at the interaction and interpersonal relationship between community members (editors), hence it does not include experiences like discouragement from speedy deletion or technical difficulty in editing.

In each of the two categories (positive and negative), we use three labels to cover the recurring themes mentioned. In “positive experience,” these are (a) emotional support and respect, (b) bonding and friendship, and (c) other support. In “negative experience,” the three labels are (a) neglected or belittled, (b) sexist comments, and (c) safety concern. 

Table of female editor experience

It is interesting to note that although in most (Western-based) research, the positive and negative experiences were in the online context, our interviewees (Indian female Wikipedians) had mostly pointed out experiences that were either offline or in non-specified context. Comments on the online interaction dynamics were fairly rare and neutral, while negative experiences mostly occurred in the offline settings.

This can indicate that the communities’ offline interaction dynamics leaves a much more significant impression (sadly, especially when it is negative) to female Wikipedians on their overall community experience. Additionally, it seems that compared to the Western/English context, Indian Wikipedian communities are more close-knit and active offline, that is, the editors are more likely to know each other personally. This dynamic is a great plus to create positive experience such as strong bonding and emotional support. However, it may also be more toxic when the experience is negative as compared to if the experience was online and anonymous. In other words, sexist comments, deliberate neglect, and safety concerns can have an aggravated effect when faced personally.

In numbers, more positive experiences were mentioned than negative ones when a neutral question was asked (such as “How do you think about the community?” / ”what is your experience in the editor community so far?”). Most negative experience were only revealed when a negative-oriented question was asked (such as “Have you had any negative or uncomfortable experience so far?”). This may be interpreted that the interviewees’ overall experiences are positive with only occasional negative encounters. However, this interpretation can still be biased if we consider the possibility that:

  1. There is a lack of trust between the researcher and the interviewees (i.e. Interviewees may have the intention to provide a more pleasing/non-controversial answer), or

  2. the selection of our interviewees was already biased since “existing” female Wikipedians can be those that have not experienced much negative experience (i.e. the female editors who were upset by more negative experiences and had already quit editing were not reachable when the interviews were conducted, or they might simply be uninterested in participating in the research).

Q2: What are new female Wikipedians’ (who participated in gender gap bridging events) attitude and preference toward these gender gap bridging activities?  

As indicated in our last question, the offline interaction and activities seem to be very crucial in determining a female Wikipedian’s overall experience in the community. In other questions throughout the semi-structured interview, we had asked existing female Wikipedians - who had been active in gender gap bridging event conduct - to discuss what can make an event more welcoming to women. Below are some of the answers given:

  1. A women-only event (although some also criticized that this approach often made the gender gap a “women-only” discussion)

  2. Female tutor’s presence

  3. Offline events where women can meet others face to face (although some had mention that they prefer to participate online - which makes them feel safer and more comfortable)

  4. The chance for participants to socialize and make friends

  5. Write about women-related topics (although some had argued that a gender gap bridging event should not promote the tokenizing logic that (only) women should (only) edit on women-related topics)


As you may notice, there are divergence of ideas regarding the points A, C, and E. In order to cross-check all these ideas, a survey of 11 scale-rating questions was developed to understand the new female Wikipedians’ (who participated in a gender gap bridging event) attitude and preferences. Three clusters of questions were formed - general experience, cross-checking questions, and attitude.

Survey questions and cross-checking factors

Below is an infographics on the 64 responses we had collected: (You may click on the image at the top of this page (under the blog title) to zoom in)

Survey results infographics


From the infographics above we can see that event participants’ overall experience are positive. However, it may still be far from perfect as there were 2 respondents who “fully disagreed” with the statement “I find the event environment safe, friendly, and welcoming.” There are still more than 40% of the respondents who thought editing is difficult (or somewhat difficult), which means improvement is needed in our event tutorship or a re-estimation participants’ skill levels is needed. Participants’ attitude towards the events was also mostly positive as indicated in the last two questions.

Cross-checking (A): Do women prefer a women-only event?

During the events, the presenters and resource persons usually encouraged male participation in the initiatives and stressed that the gender gap bridging efforts cannot be a further segregation between men and women editors. Hence, we do expect this to influence the answers given to the statement “I still prefer a women-only event.”  Still, more than one-third of the participants indicated their preference in women-only events; we expect the actual rate to be even higher if the said factor was not present.

Cross-checking (B): Is the presence of female tutor(s) important? (Does a tutor’s gender matter?)

Question 5 and 6 show very interesting results. In the offline (in real life) event context, there seem to be more disagreement on the statement “I would prefer a woman to be my tutor.” These responses can be affected by the fact that majority of the tutors in Wikipedia events were still men, and if a participant had generally positive experience throughout the event, they might not be against the idea of having a male tutor again. Nonetheless, interestingly, the answer turned the other way around when the scenario changed to an “online” setting. More respondents then agreed that they would prefer a women as their tutor. This may be a sign that women are more alert and defensive when it comes to online interaction with people in the opposite sex.

Cross-checking (C) : Do women prefer offline (in-real-life) events over online ones?

Over 50% of the respondents chose “fully agree” to the statement while only 5 respondents chose either fully or partially disagree. We can conclude that women who had experience in an offline (in-real-life) event would still prefer the same setting in the future. However, of course, we cannot be sure how many women may have turned down this first event experience because it was offline. In other words, we do not know if the preference of women who had never attended any events. However, what we know is that mass majority of those who had one offline event experience would prefer the offline setting over an online participation.

Cross-checking (D): Does socializing matter to women?

Majority of the respondents fully agreed with the statement “I would like to socialize with and know more Wikipedians.” This is one of the very few questions where no one disagreed to. Although we cannot calculate the personal utility of socializing or conclude that socializing is “necessary” to make women feel more comfortable, we can assume that it will be a positive addition to the events if women can make new friends in the communities.

Cross-checking (E): Are women interested in women-related topics? Or would they have preferred to write about their expertise areas?

From the survey, we found that more women actually showed interest in writing on women-related topics than on their domain knowledge subjects. Over 80% of the respondents agreed that they were interested in writing more about women (and related topics) while slightly fewer women said the same about their expertise knowledge. Only 8 out of 64 respondents expressed a preference for writing on their domain knowledge topics over women-related topics. Hence, it seems that women-related topics are a good place to start (for one’s first Wikipedia event experience) as most women enjoyed it. One thing we are not able to estimate is how long can this interest be sustained.


In a nutshell- research result.jpg