Wikipedia is the world’s most used online encyclopaedia. But of all the millions of articles, four times more are about men than women. And just nine per cent of the contributors are women. Furthermore, most of the articles are about well-educated people in the western world.

Swedish embassies are now doing their bit to change this. First out was the Embassy in New Delhi earlier this spring, and in the summer an inspirational Wikipedia editathon was held in South Africa to increase the proportion of African women on Wikipedia. The baton is now being passed on to other Swedish embassies around the world.

“The concept of a Wikipedia editathon is clear and easy for several partners to cooperate on and tailor to local needs,” says Hedda Krausz, Counsellor for Cultural Affairs at Sweden’s Embassy in South Africa.

First of all, the Embassy contacted local Wikimedia editor Bobby Shabangu from Johannesburg. He has long worked on increasing the number of Wikipedia articles about and from South Africa. He confirmed that there are far too few women editors in South Africa and immediately agreed to get involved and hold Wikipedia editor training.

“We decided to work with Thswane Speak Out Loud, an organisation with a big local network among young people that runs one of South Africa’s biggest poetry slams. It attracts thousands of competitors each year and regularly holds poetry slam evenings.”

The University of South Africa (UNISA) and its Department of English with lecturer Claudia Frattini at the head also joined in. The UNISA Digital Teaching Laboratory made its computer laboratory available and provided several technicians during the day.

Around 30 people participated in the fully booked workshop, which involved writing more articles about South African women and thus nudging the gender balance on Wikipedia in the right direction.

The workshop was webcast live, and the Embassy also connected with a Swedish group that was holding a Wikipedia editathon at the same time so the participants in Sweden and South Africa could help each other.

“The participants were between 16 and 50 years old. Several had never written for Wikipedia before. Computer literacy among the participants varied and it was therefore fortunate that the workshop was held in the UNISA computer laboratory, with their technicians and instructors on hand. It was particularly pleasing that a number of pupils and teachers from an upper secondary school in Pretoria signed up,” says Ms Krausz.

During the day, at least 12 articles were started. Most were about women artists and authors.

A lot of the communication took place via social media, via the Embassy’s and Speak Out Loud’s channels and the Counsellor for Cultural Affairs Twitter account. The hashtag used was #HerStory, which was a perfect choice and reached thousands of people via Twitter. The University in Pretoria helped by inviting participants via its student associations.

Early on, the Embassy made contact via Twitter with both Wikipedia in Sweden and Indian organisations that participated in the Wikipedia editathon in New Delhi in the spring. They provided some smart tips.

“The journalists were curious, which gave us at the Embassy a great opportunity to talk about Sweden’s feminist foreign policy in practice,” says Ms Krausz.

Minister Counsellor Karin Hernmarck Ahliny appeared on SABC’s breakfast TV show and was featured on UBUNTU radio together with Mr Shabangu, while Ms Krausz spoke on local radio.

One discussion that emerged during the day concerned references. One of the difficulties in writing articles about people and occurrences from the African continent is that conventional references are often lacking. They are not contained in other encyclopaedias or articles, but rather may be handed down in oral traditions – and such references are not acceptable to Wikipedia editors from the northern hemisphere. And articles written in South Africa’s minority languages are few and far between.

Both cooperation partners and participants were very positive about the day and wanted to see it followed up, as most did not have enough time to finish their articles. Many viewed it as a concrete and positive way to work on gender equality.

“The day was a combination of computer literacy training, Wikipedia editing, source criticism and gender equality discussions. A great combination that is worth repeating and developing,” says Ms Krausz.

Read and view more here:
UNISA post-event article
The Rekord
Wikimedia Sweden (both in Swedish and with English version at the end)
SABC, South African Broadcasting Corporation