This International Women’s Day you could change history

Have you ever read a Wikipedia article that you knew was patently false, or woefully short? What if it doesn’t even exist? That’s the reality for female representation on Wikipedia, the Internet’s favourite source of information. Content is skewed overwhelmingly towards male. And the individuals who are editing Wikipedia are overwhelmingly male. Wikipedia’s own research shows that female editors make up a mere 8-16 percent and only six percent of super-editors (individuals who have contributed over 500 edits). This two-pronged gender bias needs to be fixed and you can help.

On March 6th (two days before Women’s Day), the Hamilton Chapter of Canada Learning Code (the national organization that began as Ladies Learning Code) hosts their third annual Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. Anyone can participate and learn how to edit Wikipedia. Canada Learning Code is a national organization that encourages and facilitates the opportunity for women, men, teens, and children to learn how to code. The Hamilton chapter was formed in 2013.

The Edit-a-thon evening will teach any feminist-minded (male included!)potential Wikipedia editor how to create an account and submit an edit. Most Canada Learning Code workshops require payment, but the Edit-a-thon is a free event designed for novice coders.

And there are thousands and thousands of pages that need help. Wikipedia has created several lists of articles about women that need to be fleshed out. The Women in Red Project is a great place to start. Its goal is to turn the red hyperlinks on Wikipedia that denote an article does not exist for a person or topic into a blue link, which indicates an article is present. When the Women in Red project began, only about 15% of English Wikipedia’s biographies were about women. As of February 2018, that number has risen to 17.49%. There’s still a long way to go to eliminate the content gender gap, but projects like the annual Wikipedia Edit-a-thon helps empower people around the world to make those changes.

Ladies Learning Code Hamilton is run by Meg Smith and Erin O’Neil. Erin came across the Wikipedia idea through Art+Feminism, an international campaign that encourages communities to organize their own Edit-a-thons. Meg says the Edit-a-thon has evolved over the years. Three years ago the Hamilton Chapter was the first Canada Learning Code to run the event. Last year, CLL’s founder Melissa Sariffodeen brought the event to Ottawa and the event is endorsed nationwide. Each year has taught the two Hamilton Chapter co-leads something new. This year, McMaster archivist Bridget Whittle will teach the group how to research and make proper citations to create, update and edit Wikipedia entries. Citations are important for building proper articles because your hard work can be quickly taken down if citations are not included, or formatted properly.

This year is also presented in partnership with Broad Conversations, the feminist non-profit created by Erin to “further a broad conversation amongst feminist broads in Hamilton, Ontario.”

I attended last year’s Edit-a-thon in Hamilton. On a rainy weekday evening, a group of women gathered at CoMotion on King to learn how to rewrite history. My expectations were to learn a new skill and participate in something different. I had no idea how little representation women had in Wikipedia, but it didn’t surprise me. At first, the number of names on the Women in Red Project list was overwhelming. So many women of note who were waiting for someone to finally recognize their contributions to art, history, science, literature, astronomy, and so much more. And when I finally chose an article, researched the subject, and found ways to improve it, I felt really powerful for having done it.

Meg recalls a participant last year who updated Wikipedia articles on HR policy – a professional interest that she found had been neglected on Wikipedia. “The editing interface is simple. There’s actually really little code that you need to learn,” Meg says, “If you have ever blogged before or used a WordPress site, you can probably edit a Wikipedia page.”

It’s not too late to change the course of history. All you need is a computer and a Wikipedia account. The edit-a-thon is held on Tuesday, March 6 from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. at CoMotion on King, 115 King St. East. The event is free, but the organizers encourage participants to register before the event through Eventbrite.