Sambad 100 Women Edit-a-thon
A two-day 100 Women Edit-a-thon was held on March 18 and 19, 2017 in collaboration with Odisha’s biggest newspaper publisher Sambad. The event was inspired by BBC’s 100 Women series and edit-a-thons with the same name in December 2016. More than 20 female journalists participated and registered as new Odia Wikipedians. The event served as a highlight of the Women’s History Month in Indian language Wikipedias as well as in the global movement.
The name 100 Women was coined for BBC’s annual series featuring inspirational women from around the globe. In December 2016, in coordination with the broadcast of the program, an edit-a-thon of the same name was conducted at the headquarters of BBC, including at its Delhi office in India. The edit-a-thons aimed to create and edit biography articles of notable women on Wikipedia(s) to address the under-representation of women online and on Wikipedia - what we call the “Wikipedia gender gap.”
In March, Sambad became the first major news publisher after BBC to pick up the initiative and the first to hold a 100 Women edit-a-thon for Odia Wikipedia, commemorating International Women’s History Month. Sambad, an Odia daily, is among the most widely circulated papers in the state of Odisha. Ms. Tanaya Patnaik, Director of Eastern Media (Sambad’s parent company) had enthusiastically agreed to the collaboration in December 2016:
"This is the first 100 Women Editathon in India in collaboration with a media house. We are really proud to host it. A few days ago, I attended a fellowship event on ending gender violence against women, where I spoke about this editathon, and people were excited to know about this event and how we are taking such initiatives to make information about women accessible on the Internet. We will organise such events regularly and will follow up with the journalists to achieve the target of writing 100 articles about Odia Women."
The edit-a-thon was held at the Sambad headquarters in Bhubaneswar with over 20 female journalists attending the event. The event commenced on March 18, Saturday, with a half-day workshop and introduction session to Wikipedia and the topic of bridging the gender gap. Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, founder of the Sambad group, said at the event:
"Technology is always considered an enemy of language. Now is the time for language and technology to collaborate. New technologies have been developed over the last couple of years. If we can implement these technologies in our own language and accept it as a friend, we can take our language ahead. With the help of Odia Wikipedia, people using smartphones and other smart devices can access the information in their own language."
After a round of participants’ self-introduction, Sailesh Patnaik, Community Advocate, CIS-A2K introduced Odia Wikipedia, Odia input tools and how to edit. Some participants were able to create their Wikipedia accounts on the first day. CIS-A2K Research Intern, Ting-Yi Chang, highlighted in her presentation, the reasons for and significance of the Wikipedia gender gap. The event is an important effort to help Odia Wikipedia and its readers combat the gender bias in knowledge creation.
On March 19, Sunday, participants began hands on editing with the help of local Wikimedians from the Bhubaneswar Tungi community. Each participant had chosen a female achiever in advance and had prepared citable sources from the Sambad publications. The chosen figures are influential and important women in Odisha history and society, such as Kalpana Dash, the first Odia mountaineer to scale Mt. Everest, Parbati Ghosh, an accomplished Odia film-maker, Shyamamani Patnaik, a famous Odishi singer,among others. In total, 23 female biography articles were created and improved during the edit-a-thon. In an anonymous survey conducted during the event, over three-quarters of the participants said that they do not find editing difficult and over 80 percent of the participants express interest in writing about women or women-related subjects on Wikipedia.
However, since all the participants were first-time Wikipedians, the edit-a-thon was not without its challenges. Some participants had trouble getting used to the Unicode input method for the Odia script. Many of them are familiar with Shree lipi, an older input method that is not supported by Unicode interfaces such as Wikipedia. Luckily, a Shree lipi-to-Unicode conversion application was available on the computers at the venue; however, the conversion is not always perfect and the process can make editing more time consuming. A handout was given to the participants to help familiarize themselves with the new input method. Additionally, the organizers discovered the need to elaborate on what is considered a reliable source for reference. Participants were reminded during the event that in addition to the sources available at the Sambad office, they can also use other news articles on the Internet as long as they are published by credible news publishers.
Despite its challenges, the Sambad 100 Edit-a-thon was able to stand out and succeed because of a combination of the global initiative and a localized focus, the abundance of reliable resources available for editing, support from the Odia Wikipedia community, and the post-event media exposure. For example, the event was inspired by the BBC 100 Women global edit-a-thon series but was planned and carried out in the Odisha context - using Odia script, Odisha figures, and sources in Odisha’s most prominent newspaper. That being said, the existence of verifiable citation is often more crucial than one’s editing skills or writing style in determining the fate of a new article on Wikipedia. Holding the event in the Sambad office in Bhubaneswar not only ensured the availability of necessary facilities but also equipped us with abundant sources that can be cited in the articles.
The event also served as an example of regional community collaboration. Thanks to the strong support team from the Bhubaneswar WikiTungi community, participants were able to consult (both male and female) tutors throughout the event when questions emerged. The new Wikipedians were invited to join future monthly WikiTungi meetups in the city.
Finally, it is worth noting that a significant part of event was its reach. Sambad helped the event and the movement tremendously not only with their support in event planning and execution, but also with media exposure. Although the event could only accommodate around 20 participants, raising public awareness through mass media could help more people know about the existence of Odia Wikipedia and the issue of gender gap within.