Address the gender gap

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The issue

Mind the gap1.png

Wikimedia’s gender gap has gained increasing public attention, beginning with a 2010 survey conducted by the United Nations University, which found that only 13% of Wikipedia contributors identify as female. Over the years, subsequent studies have found that somewhere between 8 and 22.7% of Wikimedia’s contributors are women.[1] Suggested causes for this gap are many, and continue to be debated. Contributing factors may include broader trends in STEM and FOSS projects, differences in how each gender experiences leisure time, and women’s aversion to Wikipedia's culture of online conflict and anonymity. What is clear, however, is that some knowledge still remains underrepresented in the Wikimedia movement. Our content has significant gaps: many articles on notable women are still absent from Wikipedia, for example, and systemic bias remains an issue in topics that do have coverage.

The basis of Wikimedia projects is to create and curate "free content that anyone can edit, use, modify, and distribute". Diversity directly supports Wikimedia movement values of freedom, accessibility, equality, independence, openness, transparency, and community. Having a broad range of contributors and content is necessary to achieve our shared vision: that anyone can contribute to the sum of all knowledge. Where we are missing important voices, we also miss important context and information.


By working to bridge the gender gap, we will be better able to reflect the full diversity of human knowledge and to represent it in a fair way. Each person, as part of the human crowd, should be represented in developing humanity's shared source of free knowledge.


Assumptions [edit]

Wikipedia in Higher Education Summit portrait 2, 2011-07-09.jpg

Studies so far have been decisive in pointing out the existence of gender gap issues, but the research into their causes remains less definitive. Moreover, most of this research has focused on the absence of women from Wikimedia projects and has not addressed the experiences of Wikimedians who might fall outside the gender binary. Some proposals and actions have been put forward assuming that a change in one or more factors would help close these gaps (e.g., that more content about women on Wikipedia will increase the amount of women on Wikipedia). Following (but not copying) the thoughts of notable Wikipedian Adrianne Wadewitz,[2] here we aim to focus not on the causes of the gap, but instead on some common assumptions about the gender gap, to help shed more light on the complexity of this issue.

Assumption #1: It is the responsibility of women to fix sexism on Wikipedia[edit]

Sexism is not a problem that affects only women, and it is not only up to women to fix it. It is a matter that affects the entire community. Allies have a strong role to play in addressing the gender gap.

Assumption #2: Women will edit underrepresented topics[edit]

Assuming that women will edit underrepresented topics reinforces gender stereotypes. The task of expanding these topics has to be addressed by reaching out to the multiple communities who can edit about those topics – communities formed by men as well as women.

Assumption #3: Women will make Wikipedia a nicer place[edit]

This assumption is also based on gender stereotypes: the idea of women as peaceful, nonconfrontational, and harmless civilizing forces. In order for the community to be more civilized, civil behavior should be expected of every member of that community, no matter the gender.

Assumption #4: Women and men are interchangeable[edit]

While we would never want to pigeonhole anyone into fulfilling a certain role or force them to take perspectives stereotypically associated with their gender, we must also realize that men bring a unique perspective as men, and women bring a unique perspective as women, and both are essential for a truly great encyclopedia. Until more women contribute, the encyclopedia will continue to fail to reach its full potential.

Get involved![edit]

Participants of Gender Gap Strategic Day.jpeg

Since there is no single cause to the gender gap, there is likely no single solution either. As Adrianne Wadewitz phrased it: “When one group is mistreated, systematically denied a voice or rights, that reflects poorly on the entire community and lessens the legitimacy of that community.”[2] The gender gap is a problem of Wikimedia communities at large, so collective action is called for. We still need more initiatives focused on partnerships, research, community organizing, and socio-cultural and technical interventions.
Find an existing initiative or add your own

Are you from the press or media?[edit]

Are you writing a story about the gender gap or gender issues on Wikipedia and sister projects? Contact press(at)wikimedia.org to connect with community members who are subject matter specialists.

References [edit]

  1. Hill, B. M., Shaw, A. (2013). The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revisited: Characterizing Survey Response Bias with Propensity Score Estimation. PloS one, 8(6), e65782. html
  2. a b Wikipedia’s gender gap and the complicated reality of systemic gender bias”, HASTAC, July 26, 2013