How many times have you gone to write an essay and referred to Wikipedia as your starting point? Although it may not be seen as the most reliable resource, it is certainly a useful point of reference, and covers a wide variety of topics. Being a crowd-sourced resource, anyone is free to edit Wikipedia and many people do, but how many of these are women?
Of around 300,000 people who regularly edit Wikipedia, only 13 per cent are female. Although the lack of women writers in itself is a problem, this can also mean that some topics – particularly those relating to women’s history – are poorly covered. Wikipedia recognise that this can be a problem, and in 2013 a Diversity Conference was held in order to tackle all diversity problems, not just that of the gender gap, and they continue to discuss and come up with ideas to solve this.
It is not only Wikipedia who have noticed. The University of Edinburgh held an event during Innovative Learning Week (ILW) to encourage women to edit and create Wikipedia articles. The event was called Women, Science and Scottish History edit-a-thon series, and was held over the course of the week with different events each day, all to do with Wikipedia. Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The event was a big success. I was delighted to see so many colleagues and students joining us to edit Wikipedia together.”
During the event, it was decided that the main focus would be on the story of the Edinburgh Seven, because it is an important part of the University of Edinburgh’s history which hadn’t been covered well in Wikipedia until now. According to one of the articles edited during the event: “The Edinburgh Seven were the first group of female medical students at a university in the United Kingdom. They fought to study medicine at Edinburgh University, in Scotland, and to be allowed to graduate.” Highton said: “We worked with the academic librarians and archivists to find information about these amazing women who blazed a trail for all female students who followed. Participants were free to find articles of interest. During the event we improved 17 articles and created 12 more from scratch.”
This event raises the question as to why women are not so inclined to edit or write Wikipedia articles in the first place. There is some speculation as to whether the editing wars that go on behind the scenes can put people off, and in fact the mere prospect of someone being able to edit or delete any information put on Wikipedia can make it seem not worth the time or effort. However, these barriers can exist for any Wikipedia user, not just women, and it is important to remember that overcoming barriers can be a major part of any kind of writing. If there is any creditable information that should go on Wikipedia, there is no reason that women should be made to feel unwelcome or ignored.
There are many edit-a-thons that are held throughout the year outside of the University of Edinburgh, with many run by people who can help to breach the user interface that can sometimes be seen as not particularly user-friendly. During the ILW event for example, Ally Crockford, the Wikimedian in residence at the National Library of Scotland was there to give advice and instructions in editing.
Although editing or creating a Wikipedia article – or indeed any article – can seem daunting, having the opportunity to contribute to and improve such a widely-used internet source is something that should be taken advantage of. In a world where gender-equality is becoming more and more of an attainable goal, that 13 per cent has no cause to remain the same, and certainly not to decrease.