Belfast Telegraph

Famous women make mark on web thanks to marathon bid

Wikipedia is redressing its gender imbalance, reports Katie Wright

A 12-hour global editing marathon has broken the record for the highest number of entries about women added to Wikipedia in a single event, with more than 400 new or updated profiles.

The 'Edit-a-thon' last week was a collaboration between the online encyclopedia and the BBC to mark the finale of '100 Women', a project that for the last four years has been profiling notable women across the globe.

Before the event, statistics showed that only 17% of biographies on the site were of women and that while anyone is free to create or edit pages, only 15% of editors are female.

Indeed, over the last three years, half of the 100 Women list was not represented, so the multilingual event set out to create pages for these and other pioneering women.

New Wiki additions as a result of the day include professional wrestler Debra Marshall, who is also a survivor of domestic violence, and Liv Little, founder of Gal-dem, a web and print magazine run by and for women of colour.

"We've just got a report from Nepal that they've added 30 women to Nepalese wikipedia so far today," said Jimmy Wales from the London branch of the Edit-a-thon at New Broadcasting House, where 217 volunteers took part.

I asked the Wikipedia founder why he thought women editors were in the minority.

"One of the reasons is that we have come from an internet computer geek culture and obviously computer geeks are overwhelmingly male," he said, but also admitted the risk of online abuse is a deterrent.

"I do think the broader problem on the internet of trolling and harassment does discourage women from participating, even in contexts like Wikipedia, where we have a very, very strong rejection of trolling and harassment."

Research shows that women are 27 times more likely to be abused online, so what did the Edit-a-thon hope to achieve?

"I hope we'll get some great new content obviously, but it's just a one-day event so what we are really hoping is that we begin to build larger communities of women who can network with each other, invite even more women in and begin to address that imbalance in a more serious way," Wales said.

There may still be a long way to go, but the founder is optimistic that in future the gender imbalance will even out and more of Wikipedia's 18 billion monthly page views will be directed at famous females.

"In society as a whole, a lot of intellectual activities are not yet 50/50, but that has changed quite a bit and is still changing," he said. "I don't know when we'll get there or to what extent, but I'm hopeful that we will."

Belfast Telegraph