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Another 5 Years: What Have We Learned about the Wikipedia Gender Gap and What Has Been Done? (Part 3.)

Posted by Ting-Yi Chang at Sep 18, 2016 06:55 AM |
Five years after Wikimedia Foundation’s 2011 editor survey was conducted and revealed the gender gap issue, scholars, practitioners, and communities around the globe have come a long way to address the gender imbalance of the online encyclopedia. This blog post series (of three parts) serve as a summary of movements and discoveries in Wikipedia gender gap narrowing on both local (India) and global scales.

This is the third (last) part of the blog series, please see Part 1 and Part 2.

Responding to the Wikipedia gender gap problem, former WMF Executive Director Sue Gardner set a target in 2011 to raise the female editor percentage to 25% by 2015. In an interview in August 2014, Jimmy Wales declared that “we’ve completely failed,” Gardner also noted that the solutions should come from local Wikipedian communities rather than from the Foundation on a macro scale.

Although the target was not met, initiatives and reforms taken places globally and locally in the past five years are not fruitless. And as mentioned in Part 2, we should not define this movement as merely pursuing a goal towards certain percentage or number. As for now dialogue has been created to include the issue into more strategic plans; collectives are established to cumulate and share resources across communities. There has been abundance of learning (and definitely much more to learn) in the issue.

What has been done?

Be it ongoing or spontaneous, international or local, there have been many interventions trying to address the gender gap in Wikipedia.

Intervention events

In July 2015, WikiProject Women in Red (WiR) was launched to “turn "redlinks (non-existing pages) into blue ones (existing pages).”  The project encourages editors worldwide to create (or expand) female-related pages (biographies, women’s work, contribution, issues, etc.) that fit the notability criteria of Wikipedia. WiR also picks monthly and annual topics to feature. Currently in September, 2016, edit-a-thons on Women in nursing and women labour activists are happening online. And “Women scientists” edit-a-thon is a year-long featured topic for 2016. Although WiR is still primarily an English-WP project, some communities have expanded and localized it to local initiatives.

Coincidentally, in 2013, Indian Wikipedian communities have carried out one of the biggest and most well-known gender gap intervention – Lilavatis’ Daughters. “Lilavati’s Daughters” is a book of essay collections featuring nearly one hundred women scientists in Indian since the Victorian Era. The 2013 edit-a-thon was hence to create Wikipedia pages for these biographies in different Indian languages. Collaborating with institutions and colleges, the event was greeted with high popularity and success. Similar events were also carried out afterwards, including Indian Women in Science Edit-a-thon which has been held annually since 2014; the last event was held in July, 2016 at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Another significant initiative across the globe and in Indian communities is the annual Wikiwomen’s history month in March along with the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th. The initiative started in 2012, edit-a-thons, photo-thons (updating photos onto Wikimedia Commons), and meetups have been held to raise the awareness of the gender gap online, create female-related content available on Wikipedia, and to strengthen the bonding between local Wikiwomen.

Recently, Wikimedia Foundation collaborated with the United Nations to launch the one-day Her Story project Edit-a-thon on August 12th, 2016 to celebrate International Youth Day globally. Cities in India like Chennai and Delhi also held local edit-a-thons on the day of in response to the event. With the opportunity to work alongside the UN, it is a good sign that the Wikipedia gender gap issue is drawing global attention, not just in the Wikipedian community level, but also in global institution level.


The Wikiwomen’s Collaborative is a global platform for female Wikipedians to share projects, insights, and support. The Collaborative also encourages participants to write blog post on the Wikiwomen’s Blog to spread more words about the gender gap issue and initiatives. A Gender Gap Task Force (GGTF) was founded in 2013 aiming to challenge the patriarchal culture of knowledge and Wikipedia. GGTF tries to fix the encyclopedia’s imbalance power structure by initiating discussion and examination on its policies and editor interaction. It has also been a place to cumulate research studies and resources on the gender gap topic.  A (global) gender gap mailing list is also created to spread the news and words with more communities.

Improvement in the Interface

Aside from events and collectives organized by respective communities, the Wikipedia platform itself has also been under constant transition in the last few years, trying to create a friendlier place for women and newcomers.

Since June 2012, the new prototype Visual Editor has become available in more and more language versions of Wikimedia projects – including most Indian languages. Visual Editor enables editor to contribute without learning the Wiki markups, as it creates the “write-as-how-you-will-see-it” feature requiring only basic typing skills. Nevertheless, Visual Editor does have several limitations comparing to the traditional edit source option, including slower speed, unavailable in talk and discussion namespaces, limited template editing options, and so on. While a research in 2013 on Visual Editor’s use in English Wikipedia showed low effectiveness of the new feature in attracting and encouraging new editors, more research should also be done in the non-English (especially Global South) context. Online tutorial resources about editing are also becoming available in Indian communities.

Traditional wiki markup editing screenshot

Traditional Wiki markup editing screenshot


visual editor of wikipedia screenshot

Visual Editor screenshot


On the other hand, mobile apps of Wikipedia has been improved in its editing function. Although the apps are still in constant development to make the function smoother and easier for mobile users, it is a great breakthrough for those who do not have personal computers to contribute in small ways (or even in great ways – some have created pages and denied the statement that mobile editing is impractical). 

What’s more to be learned?

There is no denying that our Indian language communities have been putting efforts to highlight and address the gender gap issue on Wikipedia. The Wikiconference India 2016 in August also had a panel responding to this topic where panelists from both outreach and research threads proposed localized perspective and strategies to fix the problem.

However, there are still much more to be learned. First of all, we need a more organized feedback loop (a cycle of planning-executing-evaluating-sharing learning) for local interventions to learn from our success and mistakes. Secondly, the issue has to become more “public” in a sense that we are not just promoting within our own circles. Awareness-building through media coverage and institutional collaboration can bring in greater public opinions and volunteers to help the online encyclopedia become a more inclusive place. The third point is a change of mindset: women's feeling and experience should be put forward into the central of our initiatives and interventions.

“We made it clear that we were focusing on the (female) participants and their experience, the content they created online are of course important too, but that’s just the by-product.” -Wikiconference Indian 2016 Gender Gap panel presenter

In other words, as we are engaging more and more women, the focus should not be numbers but the humans. At the same time, we should always encourage women to stand out and speak out. As mentioned in the previous part, gender discrimination cases have not yet been reported in our communities, but we also have to ensure if it does happen both the female editors and the community should have a certain level of awareness (what constitutes harassment/discrimination/sexism; when and how to call out) and a report and support mechanism to the problem.


The road to a real equalized knowledge system is not easy. As many have noticed and pointed out “This is not just a Wikipedia problem!” Indeed, similar gender imbalance exists in our academies, IT industries, free and open-source software (FOSS) workplace, to name a few. Nonetheless, with the flexibility and the strong bond that Indian Wikipedian communities possess, we can be one of the pioneers in positive changes. After all, the knowledge created and action taken today will shape what our tomorrow can be like.