Another 5 Years: What Have We Learned about the Wikipedia Gender Gap and What Has Been Done? (Part 2)
Five years after Wikimedia Foundation’s 2011 editor survey was conducted and revealed the gender gap issue, scholars, practitioners, and communities around the globe have come a long way to address the gender imbalance of the online encyclopedia. This blog post series (of three parts) serve as a summary of movements and discoveries about Wikipedia gender gap on both local (India) and global scales.
In the last part of the blog series, we examined the definition and danger of the Wikipedia gender gap. This issue has been puzzling for many – why is there such a wide gap globally?
Why is there a gender gap?
The reasons behind the Wikipedia gender gap are complex and culturally-sensitive. Two main types of barriers are discussed as “inside of Wikipedia (internal)” and “outside of Wikipedia (external).”
|Challenges using Wiki mark-up and its interface||Limited access to internet and facilities|
|(rare in India) Challenges in getting help from community members||Lack of skills|
|(rare in India) Being discriminated as a newcomer||Lack of confidence|
|(rare in India) Experience of discriminative behavior/conflicts||Limited time|
|The fear of becoming “visible” as one of the few female in the community||Preference to more socially interactive online activities (Lack of interest)|
|Awareness - not knowing Wikipedia is editable|
(From Jadine Lannon (2013), Same Gaps Different Experience)
India v.s. the World
Unfortunately, most studies have been done in English Wikipedia and rarely in other smaller language communities, despite the fact that these barriers can vary a lot in different cultural, political, and economic context. In India, practitioners and researchers have identified a few potential causes of low female participation rate on Wikipedia. Contrary to what was discovered in the English Wikipedia, researchers have found that Indian female Wikipedians are generally more active and willing to participate in both online and offline interactions compared to those in the English Wikipedia community. Reports of gender discrimination cases are also fewer than those in the Western context. A possible explanation to both phenomena is that Indian Wikipedian communities are rather small and close-knitted which encourage more interpersonal networking and prevent anonymous attacks.
However, recruiting and keeping female Wikipedians in India do have its own barriers to overcome. “Awareness” is discovered as one of the very primary barriers for most to start editing Wikipedia. Many did not know that the online encyclopedia is easily editable, and even more have not heard of (or are unfamiliar with the use of) Wikipedia. Outreach events are important portals for both men and women to discover and join local Wikipedia communities. And this is where weakness can be turned into strength; as most newcomers are brought in through community outreach events or personal connection, it creates a strong bond within the members and a more welcoming culture featuring collectivism rather than individualism.
On the societal level?
Although the binary categorization of inside and outside of Wikipedia is widely used, it can easily lead us to believe that we can draw a clear line in between Wikipedia and the offline world, but neglect the big picture which shapes both sides of the table. Ignoring the fundamental (societal) level of the issue and its linkage to other factors poses the risk of nurturing a symptom-fixing solution instead of a system-questioning culture.
For example, societal factors such as expectation on women’s/girls’ role and priority in her family can prevent them from the access to required facilities, internet, training, and personal leisure time for joining (or continuing editing) Wikipedia. On the psychological experience side, some women reported that they do not feel comfortable when being so “visible” online and in the community; and this has a lot to do with how our online (and offline) society has been constructed and conceptualized as an “unsafe” space for women.
In fact, Wagner et al. (2015) have found that a nation’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) is associated to the country’s editor gender bias on Wikipedia. Although it was a study focusing on Global North samples, the logic behind is most likely applicable in India (which ranked 130 out of 188 countries’ GII in 2014) – as the more unequally women is treated in the society, the less likely that she can reach the pre-requisite to be a Wikipedian, or even be online. For example, in India there is a much lower literacy rate for female than male – 53.7% to 75.3% as reported in the 2011 Census. At the same time, population (above the age of 25) with at least some secondary education is 56.6% for male and only 27% for female in India based on the UN Human Development Report.
All these societal factors and nuances feed into the gaps we see today – in higher academic positions, in industries, and eventually in Wikipedia. It is definitely not easy to address the macro-scale problems, but what we can do is to change it from the community level to influence individuals and the society. Hence, we are not just battling against an online phenomenon created by individuals’ unwillingness to participate, but challenging and redressing the patriarchal power while transforming the traditions of how knowledge flows. After all, bridging the gender gap should not be merely a target of “We will reach X% female participation rate by Y years,” it has much greater potential and responsibility in the long run for our generations and societies.
In the next part of the blog series, we talk about: What has been done? & What’s more to be learned?
 From Jadine Lannon (2013), Same Gaps Different Experience and from WCI 2016 presentation:
 Jadine, L., (2013). Same Gaps Different Experience
 Wagner, Garcia, Jadidi, & Strohmaier, (2015). It’s a man’s Wikipedia? Assessing gender inequality in an online encyclopedia. From the Wikipedia editor community is sensible to gender in Proceedings of the Ninth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media 454. URL: https://www.aaai.org/ocs/index.php/ICWSM/ICWSM15/paper/viewFile/10585/10528