Home Tech ‘We are writing history’: Spanish women address the gender gap on Wikipedia

‘We are writing history’: Spanish women address the gender gap on Wikipedia

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'We are writing history': Spanish women address the gender gap on Wikipedia

PEntered the back room of a feminist bookstore in Madrid, 17 women were hunched over their laptops, chatting and laughing as they passed out snacks. From time to time, a loud burst of applause punctuated the sound of the writing, each time marking a milestone as the group eliminated what is perhaps one of the most pervasive gender gaps in the world.

Just under a fifth of Wikipedia’s content, including biographies, focuses on women, while women count for only about 15% of the site’s volunteer editors. “The numbers are pretty scary,” said Patricia Horrillo, who for much of the last decade has dedicated her free time to working to address this gap, cultivating a community of Wikipedia editors dedicated to publishing women-centered content.

The result is that of Spain. Wikisphereone of a handful of groups around the world – from Whose knowledge? in the United States to Italy WikiDonne and Switzerland’s Les Sans Pages, which have emerged to address gender balance on Wikipedia.

It is something that has long been recognized by the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that hosts Wikipedia. “Wikipedia is human-powered, so it is vulnerable to human bias,” the foundation says. “It is also a reflection of the structural and historical inequalities experienced by women around the world.”

Historically, Wikipedia has been edited by more men than women, all of whom rely on existing published sources to verify the facts in their articles, the foundation notes. “But in many places around the world, women have been left out of historical narratives and traditional sources of knowledge.”

In recent years the foundation has supported groups such as Wikiesfera de Horrillo, offering them a hand in their quest to correct this imbalance. “For the first time, civil society has the power to make women visible,” said Horrillo. “The story has always been told by those in power; now we have that power.”

It was this belief that led more than a dozen women to pile into Madrid’s La Fabulosa bookstore to spend a sunny Saturday creating and translating Wikipedia entries about women in art.

Women make up approximately 15% of Wikipedia’s volunteer editors. Photography: The Guardian

“Today we are writing history, right here,” said Encina Villanueva, who has attended Wikiesfera events since 2016. Sometimes she writes original content for Wikipedia pages about women, other times she delves into existing pages to balance texts that prioritize women’s appearance or their ties to prominent men above their achievements.

She is often watched in awe as her quotes bounce around the Internet. “Over the years, I’ve seen lines I wrote used all over the place, repeated over and over again in articles,” she said. “The influence you have is tremendous.”

Sitting next to him was Celia Hernández-García, who was creating a page dedicated to a artwork by Maria Blancharda Spanish painter who at the beginning of the 20th century developed a unique style of cubism.

Hernández-García, a high school teacher, began attending Wikiesfera events in 2017 after reading about the group online. “As soon as I saw it, I thought this was my place,” she said.

For years she had struggled to cobble together women-centered content for her students, hoping to give them insight into women’s achievements that were too often missing from textbooks. “At one point I sat down with a textbook and went through all the references for men and women; the difference was mind-boggling.”

He showed up to his first Wikiesfera activity without technological knowledge. “I didn’t know anything,” he said, laughing. “Patricia is very patient.”

It’s a nod to the type of community Horrillo aims to create. The seeds of Wikiesfera were planted a decade earlier, when she worked at a cultural center and she became fascinated by the question of why people didn’t contribute more to sites like Wikipedia. When she started asking, the answers hinted at barriers that were much greater than technological knowledge. “A woman told me: ‘But who am I to write the story?’”

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The group’s activities are open to men and women of all ages, but those who attend most frequently are women between 40 and 60 years old. Photography: The Guardian

This feeling led Horrillo to launch Wikiesfera, envisioning it as a support group that could help people as they struggled with questions about what kind of content to write and how to do it. The focus on women emerged in parallel when Horrillo seized on the idea of ​​addressing the gender gap at Wikipedia, allowing her to merge her passions for technology and activism.

Although the organization’s activities are open to men and women of all ages, those who most frequently attend are women between 40 and 60 years old. “They are women who have time, many times they do not have children or dependents,” Horrillo said. “It’s an important point because it’s one of the reasons why there are so few female editors: it takes a long time.”

Studies over the years have highlighted other reasons why women remain marginalized on the site, from the lack of reliable sources that have documented women’s achievements throughout history to the suggestion that it is more the women’s biographies are likely to be nominated for elimination.

Still, Horrillo is determined in her effort to add women to one of the most visited sites in the world. “What we are doing is very important because there is nothing like Wikipedia,” she said.

In Saturday’s marathon session, a total of 33 articles were added to Wikipedia, from a page about a sculpture by Luisa Roldánthe first documented female sculptor from Spain, to a translation into Spanish in a artwork by Marie Bracquemondone of the notable women of the impressionist movement.

Each of the entries was, in Horrillo’s words, a small, tangible step toward fighting the formidable structures that have long worked to keep most women invisible. “You have to start somewhere. It is a way to fight injustice, but without feeling overwhelmed,” she stated. “If you start asking what I can do to change the world, the answer is a little complicated. But this is something that is within our reach.”

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