Wikipedia is the world’s most used online encyclopaedia. Among the millions of articles there are four times as many articles about men as there are about women. Behind the scenes the figures are even worse: only nine per cent of editors are women and one per cent are transgender people; the rest are men. Moreover, the majority of those who edit articles are well-educated people from countries in the west.

But this can be changed. Sweden’s Embassy in New Delhi decided to help out.

Wikimedia associations and volunteers around the world are working actively to encourage more women to contribute, and they are organising several initiatives to create more Wikipedia articles about women.

­“We want to see high quality on Wikipedia, in terms of both credibility and content, and this is why we want to counter this form of distortion that risks making knowledge about women’s achievements and their roles in history invisible,” says Sara Mörtsell, head of education at Wikimedia Sweden.

Since 2011, the organisation has been promoting broader participation in the editing process, including by holding Wikipedia ‘edit-a-thons’ where volunteers come together to learn about how to publish articles. A few events of this kind have been held in India, but often there is a lack of suitable premises and a reliable internet connection. This was what the Embassy offered to provide when the organisation Feminism in India described the challenges they had experienced in connection with their edit-a-thons.

On 4 March, the Embassy hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon on the theme of women in science and technology (#IndianWomenInScience). The purpose of the meeting was to increase women’s representation on the website by uploading personal portraits that had previously been missing.

“This was an event in the spirit of the feminist foreign policy. The idea of bringing together issues on women’s representation with new digital tools and platforms was great. The fact that it also involved Wikipedia, which all of us – if we’re honest – use occasionally, felt particularly topical,” says Ambassador Harald Sandberg.

India’s ‘hidden figures’

It is Saturday morning and the organisations Feminism in India and Punjabi Wikimedians have gathered almost 30 people for an introductory workshop on Wikipedia editing at the Swedish Embassy in New Delhi. Many more people wanted to attend, but the Alva Myrdal conference room could not hold any more. All of the participants are young and many of them are university students.

A few experienced ‘wikipedians’ are among them, but most are attending for the first time. The participants are sat behind their laptops listening to Satdeep Gill from Punjabi Wikimedians – a group of volunteers who write articles in Punjabi – go through the basics of Wikipedia editing. Then it is time to choose: Feminism in India have put together a list containing a whole host of names of prominent female Indian scientists for whom there is no Wikipedia profile. They include botanists and astrophysicists, pathologists and biotechnicians. The volunteers – including a group from the Embassy – then get to work on their research: reading articles and eBooks and sometimes even contacting the person in question on Twitter.

Someone mentions the film ‘Hidden Figures’, which was nominated for an Oscar and which portrays the black scientists who contributed to the United States space programme in the 1960s. India has its own ‘hidden figures’: when an Indian space probe reached Mars in 2014, three women from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) were behind several important aspects of the programme. As of 4 March, this information is available on Wikipedia. Sofia Nyström, the Embassy’s trainee and project leader for the event, has made this happen:

“I wrote about the space researcher Anuradha TK. She is currently the ISRO’s most senior woman and has contributed to – and above all been head of – several of India’s most important space programmes. She was also part of the research group, consisting entirely of women, which completed the launch of the communication satellite GSAT-12 2011,” says Sofia Nyström.

Hello Stockholm – Namaste from India!

Between half past nine and half past four, the conference room is a flurry of research and writing. Everyone’s eyes then turn to the video conference equipment. From the Swedish Institute’s premises in Stockholm, there are waves from the participants of a sister event organised by a group of Swedish volunteers. The baton will be passed on and the editorial work will continue in Sweden, but first Japleen Pasricha from Feminism in India talks about the results of the day: at least 30 new articles about female Indian and Swedish scientists have been uploaded on the site in a total of four languages.

“We hope to break the stereotypical norms about women’s and men’s place in society, and to inspire and create role models for people. By creating portraits of women as scientists, entrepreneurs, athletes, leaders and so on, we also send out the signal that it is possible to take up these positions yourself,” says Japleen Pasricha.

Wikipedia:

  • Has 16 million page views every month
  • Is the seventh most visited website in the world
  • Is the only website in the top ten that is a non-commercial initiative

Wikipedia edit-a-thon in New Delhi

  • Started on 4 March
  • Almost 30 participants
  • Over 30 new articles about female Indian and Swedish scientists were uploaded to Wikipedia
  • The articles were written in four languages: English and Swedish, as well as Punjabi and Malayalam, which are the world’s 10th and 34th most widely spoken languages respectively
  • The event concluded with a reception at the Residence
  • Hashtag: #IndianWomenInScience