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Girls & Women

These Indian Women Are Correcting Wikipedia’s Gender Bias One Page at a Time

Flickr/Leslee Lazar

Wikipedia pages are the first to come up in most internet searches — but what if what you’re looking for is nowhere to be found on the online encyclopedia’s expansive database?

If you’re looking for information about Indian women in contemporary art, science, or politics, that might be true. That’s exactly why media publication Feminism in India has been organizing monthly “Edit-a-Thons,” to correct the gender imbalance in Wikipedia’s coverage.

Part of Wikipedia’s appeal is that it’s crowd-sourced. Anybody can create and edit pages. The problem is, not everybody does.

In a 2011 survey, Wikipedia found that only 9% of its editors globally were women. That number jumps to 15% in the US, but plummets to just 3% in India, according to Quartz.

Another study found that women reported a lower level of confidence in their expertise and a greater discomfort with editing the work of others on Wikipedia, which may explain the site’s small number of female editors.

According to Alexa Internet, Wikipedia is the fifth most popular website in the world. Millions of people rely on it to provide information, and without female editors the site’s offerings may be skewed, academics say.

“From a pure content perspective, men and women may bring different interests and preferences, and they may focus on different issues,” Stony Brook University professor Julia Bear told the Harvard Business Review. “If we have such a small percentage of women contributing, then there are a lot of issues that will potentially be skewed or get less attention than they should.”

Because Wikipedia is crowd-sourced, it is “a representation of knowledge,” Joseph Reagle, a professor at Northeastern University, said. This means that the knowledge and information accessible on Wikipedia is a reflection of the knowledge and interests of its contributors and editors.

“If you go there, and you don’t see any female representation or role models, it shows an implicit bias in the way things are ordered and prioritized. That can have a significant effect on people,” Reagle added.

Read more: There’s a New Book Series for Young Girls, and It Wants to Close the Gender Gap in Tech

Feminism in India’s agenda is to increase the representation of Indian women on the Internet, which “very closely ties in with Wikipedia,” its founder and editor-in-chief, Japleen Pasricha, told Quartz.

September’s Edit-A-Thon focused on increasing the representation of women who are contemporary Indian artists on Wikipedia’s pages and had 17 participants, most of whom were women, according to Quartz.

But even getting women to attend the Edit-A-Thons can be a challenge — one that has a lot to do with gender-biased social norms in the country. Pasrich told Quartz that even in modern-day India, women are expected to balance work and family, and that might not leave much free time for Edit-A-Thons.

Similar initiatives to correct Wikipedia’s gender imbalance issue have taken place in the US and Mexico. But with more than 40 million pages in close to 300 languages on Wikipedia, there’s still a long way to go.

Global Citizen campaigns to ensure equal rights and opportunities for women and girls. You can take action here.