Gender representation at Wikipedia is well-documented. Studies conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation (which serves as Wikipedia’s support structure) conclude that less than 15 percent of the popular online encyclopedia’s contributors are female.
According to Siko Bouterse, director of community resources at the Wikimedia Foundation, diversity among editors is vitally important to Wikipedia’s vision.
“Our vision for Wikipedia is ‘the sum of all human knowledge,’” she says. “We need everyone to contribute to that. The encyclopedia is incomplete without that.”
The lack of female editors has significant repercussions on the encyclopedia’s content. Pages on women’s health, women’s issues, and famous women artists tend to be mere paragraphs long, or as Wikipedians say, “stubs,” if they even exist at all.
There are various theories on why so few women participate on Wikipedia. Some are social barriers, such as leisure time inequality – for example, women who are working may have more childcare or domestic duties than men – and aversion to conflict, or so-called “edit wars.”
Another facet is a culture of online bullying, which targets female editors. Paula Rose, who is a Wikipedia contributor based in Kansas City, calls it “a culture of hacker elitism” in which a small, but aggressive minority of editors target women and are more likely to challenge or delete articles about women.
“It’s rare, but it does happen," says Rose. "This kind of bullying happens in a number of online spaces, not just Wikipedia.”
But one of the most common barriers of entry is the lack of user friendliness. Despite popular belief, not everybody can be on Wikipedia.
“In theory, anybody can add anything they want. But when you actually go to create and article, its not that easy,” Rose told host Steve Kraske on Up To Date.
Rose is involved with an organization created to remedy this problem called Art+Feminism. It organizes edit-a-thons around the world where people can learn how to edit on Wikipedia, and work on a list of female artists whose entries on the encyclopedia need to be created or improved.
Rose organized and attended her first edit-a-thon earlier this month in Lawrence.
“It was wonderful, it made it feel like part of a movement, and it was a very supportive environment to learn,” Rose says.
She will be a part of another edit-a-thon this Saturday at the Kansas City Public Library. Anyone can stop by to get training and resources on how to improve Wikipedia. There will be a list of women-related entries to be created and improved, and people on hand to train beginners on how to edit and cite sources on Wikipedia. Also, there will be snacks.
The Wikimedia Foundation recognizes that this is a multi-faceted problem, which will require a multi-faceted solution. Bouterse says that the foundation is running a campaign searching for new initiatives to address the gender gap and has set aside $25 million to fund these ideas.
Wikipedia edit-a-thon, Saturday, March 28 from 12-4:30 p.m. at the Central Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. Free and open to women, women-identified, and women allies (that means you, guys!)