Missing: Women on Wikipedia.
Who does not use Wikipedia, at least, once a day to look for some information? Following Google, this platform became a knowledge fountain, trusted by many people – and one of the most popular according to the World Wide Web. Two men, called Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001, launched the platform; their goal was to have a free encyclopedia to all human beings around the world (Wales, 2015). However, there is an important gap. Not only the majority of editors are men (Figure 1), but also articles about women –or topics that are relevant for women- are few and with a short extension.
Figure 1: Wikipedia. Wikipedia editors surveyed by the Wikimedia Foundation in 2018 were predominantly male. 2018.
A bit of Wikipedia and the gender gap
“Imagine a world which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge”, starts on his TED speech Jimmy Wales, one of the Wikipedia co-founders. The web-based encyclopedia, which is multilingual and has free content, can be managed by anyone -as it runs thanks to online volunteers. Every editor follows some social policies and takes into account the elements of the software. Indeed, neutrality is one of the main rules; as Jimmy Wales say (Wales, J. 2005) “neutrality empowers a very diverse community to come together and get some work done”.
However, as Wikipedia itself explains in an article called Gender bias on Wikipedia, the “vast majority of [Wikipedia] editors are young, college-educated males”, a demographic which has been described as “a bunch of male geeks who are wealthy enough to afford a $2,000 laptop and a broadband connection” (2019, January 08). According to the analysis done by Wikipedia women only represent a 9% of the contributors, which can be seen illustrated in figure 1. Moreover, approximately 17% of Wikipedia biographies talk about women (2018, September 27).
In consequence, Wikipedia has received some critiques related to the gender gap. For instance, it is possible to find some articles on the media linked to the topic. “Define Gender Gap? Look up Wikipedia’s Contributor List”, that says Noam Cohen in The New York Times (Cohen, 2011). A more recent media piece, published in The Washington Post on October 2018, popped up the gender difference again with the following title: Why Nobel winner Donna Strickland did not have a Wikipedia page (Bazely, 2018). Another example can be found in the academic atmosphere, where there are papers written such as “The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revisited: Characterizing Survey Response Bias with Propensity Score Estimation” (Hill & Shaw 2013), published in PLOS, the Public Library of Science.
Figure 2: The New York Times (digital version). Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List. Article Data January 30, 2011. Retrieved January 15, 2019. Screenshot by the author.
FOR A MORE CURRENT ONE?
Taking a step forward to break gender differences
Even though Sue Gardner, Wikipedia Foundation executive director, had the ambition of raising female contributors participation to 25 percent by 2015 and it has not been accomplished (go back to figure 1, done on 2018) there are some interesting actions to highlight. From surveys that make the issue flourish as an important deal to an online women movement, like Women in red project; down below there is a summarized timeline of relevant responses and activities done to break the gender gap, done using the data of the Wikipedia article Gender bias on Wikipedia (2019, January 08).
Figure 3: timeline of actions done to break the gender gap in Wikipedia. Created by the author.
Let us explain it, developing lengthy some parts:
- In 2011 the Wikimedia Foundation promoted the first semi-annual Wikipedia survey, which makes out the gender gap suggesting that the 9% of Wikipedia editors are women.
- During 2010–14 the Wiki Education Foundation organized college courses that were including Wikipedia edition; the 61% of the participants were women.
- In 2012 the first WikiWomenCamp took place in Buenos Aires (Argentina). It gave the chance to explore challenges that women’s face while they contribute to the free knowledge movement. It was also an opportunity for networking between people from different countries and cultures.
- In 2015 Wiki Women in Red project was launched to make a peak with the visits of women’s biographies and works. In other words, more technical, turn “redlinks” into blue ones.
- In 2016 the project Wiki Loves Women was activated. As they say in the website, http://www.wikiloveswomen.org, it “is a multi-country, multi-faceted project that aims at encouraging the contribution of content that celebrates the influence of women leaders, and reflects the realities faced by women and girls across Africa”.
Figure 4: Youtube. Wiki loves Women in English. Video published on March 8, 2017. Retrieved January 16, 2019, Screenshot by the author.
- In 2017 the second WikiWomenCamp took place in Mexico City (Mexico). The goals of the event were: continue reflecting about the gender-gap, share experiences to learn from each other and build a global network and, last but not least, discuss challenges and solutions related to the participation of women in the Wikimedia movement.
- In 2018 the UNESCO campaign, #wiki4women, was also noteworthy and brought up the matter again. The initiative, with the shocking lemma “Only 17% of biographies on Wikipedia are about woman”, was encouraging everybody to take a few minutes and create, enhance or translate –in the largest possible number of languages- Wikipedia profiles of women related to fields like education, science, culture, social and human sciences, or communication and information.
Figure 4: @UNESCO Twitter. #wiki4women campaign post. Twitt data March 8, 2018. Retrieved February 16, 2019. Screenshot by the author.
By way of conclusion: keep working!
Kat Walsh, member of Wikipedia board –policy analyst and skilled Wikipedia contributors, have said: “the big problem is that the current Wikipedia community is what came about by letting things develop naturally — trying to influence it in another direction is no longer the easiest path, and requires conscious effort to change” (Cohen, 2011). By way of explanation, to deal with the gender gap in Wikipedia -seen along this article-, it is important to join forces and keep working.
In the web page WikiProject Women, a group of editors aim people to collaborate and improve women’s topics coverage; step-by-step instructions and some useful links can be found on this page. The under-representation of content about women on Wikipedia is an issue that needs to be considered. For instance, not founding women biographies can make people’s imaginary believe that women are not doing important things –and this is not true. This example can also bring a reflection about the “preconceived” ideas that everybody has of who is doing what kind of work (ask yourself: who are the artist, writers or scientists in your mind? Are you having parity?)
To sum up, Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia very useful in terms of information and knowledge source. However, it is necessary to keep the eyes open and be a critic with the gender gap that is taking place on the platform. There is a structural bias, related to gender, and Wikipedia is illustrating that. Turning it around: this can be the opportunity to show how women are also being part of the story of humankind. Which woman do you think is missing on Wikipedia? It is time to participate and be part of the change.
Figure 5: Pinterest. #100Days100Women collection. 2016. Retrieved February 16, 2019. Screenshot by the author.
To read more on this topic:
Why Nobel winner Donna Strickland didn’t have a Wikipedia page. (October 2018)
Learning about gender bias on Wikipedia articles. (September 2018)
Where Are the Women in Wikipedia? (February 2011)
Nine Reasons Women Don’t Edit Wikipedia (in their own words). (February 2011)
Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List (January 2011)
Wales, J. (2005, June). Jimmy Wales: On the birth of Wikipedia [Video file]. Retrieved from
Gender bias on Wikipedia. (2019, January 08). Retrieved January 15, 2019, from
Posted in Communicating Science, Contributors, Educational Partnerships, Equity, Professional development, Professional development testimonials, Testimonials by Guest Contributor. (2018, September 27). Learning about gender bias in Wikipedia articles. Retrieved January 16, 2019, from
Cohen, N. (2011). Wikipedia Ponders Its Gender-Skewed Contributions. [online] Nytimes.com. Retrieved January 16, 2019, from
Bazely, D. (2018). Why Nobel winner Donna Strickland didn’t have a Wikipedia page. Retrieved January 16, 2019, from
Hill, B. M., & Shaw, A. (2013, June 26). The Wikipedia Gender Gap Revised: Characterizing Survey Response Bias with Propensity Score Estimation. Retrieved January 16, 2019, from