Challenging the massive gender imbalance on Wikipedia. Hundreds of dedicated volunteers are defying the sexists to write women back into history.
- Only 18 percent of biographies on
Wikipediaare about women.
- Women In Red want to change this by creating thousands of new female-focused articles.
- So far, volunteers have created approximately 140,000 new Wikipedia biographies of women.
Costa Rica's first female anthropologist, a 19th-century Dutch prophetess, and a Turkish migrant worker who set herself on fire in a Hamburg marketplace are just some examples of the over 1,500 women Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight has helped place back into the annals of
From Nevada City, California, Stephenson-Goodknight spends hours every day creating Wikipedia articles about inspiring women from years gone by.
She doesn't get paid for this tiring work. The retired health administrator is driven to do this by a persistent belief.
"If I don't stop and do this now, these women will be lost to all of history," she told Insider.
Stephenson-Goodknight's desire to bring notable women from out of the shadows is what encouraged her to help establish Wikipedia's "Women In Red."
The project, founded in 2015, is dedicated to redressing the content gender gap on Wikipedia by increasing the number of women's biographies on the website.
This is done by turning 'red links,' marking a Wikipedia page that has not yet been created, into blue links that lead to entries documenting notable women's lives from history.
Hundreds of volunteers worldwide have joined this mission, working tirelessly to create and edit articles that tell the stories of forgotten women.
The project's success means that Women In Red has become a major force in addressing the internet's systemic bias.
How Women In Red began
The project was inspired by the release of an academic paper in October 2014.
The research, led by social scientists from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Yahoo! Labs, found that only 15.5 percent of Wikipedia's biographies were about women or women's issues.
Roger Bamkin, a retired engineer and prolific Wikipedia editor, was astonished by this statistic. "It was a lot better than paper encyclopedias, but it was still embarrassingly low," he told Insider.
Eager to see these numbers change, Bamkin reached out to Stephenson-Goodknight to suggest a solution.
They both knew that a lot of this
But, Bamkin said, it would take too long to correct this. "My idea was much too important to wait until we got enough women editors," he said.
Instead, the proposal was to encourage editors of all genders and walks of life to volunteer some time by following the red links and creating biographies about women.
The pair launched their first 'Edit-a-thon'- an in-person event where amateur Wikipedia editors came together to socialize and create a vast number of articles about important women from history.
Now, several virtual Edit-a-thons take place every month for Women In Red.
Edit-a-thons encourage volunteers to produce content on certain topics. Some last for a few days. Others are year-long campaigns.
A continuing project, #1Day1Woman, challenges volunteers to create one article per day about notable women.
Lists of red links are provided as inspiration. The lists are developed in numerous ways; some are crowdsourced, bots accumulate others. "We've created about 800 lists of women missing from history," Stephenson-Goodknight said.
Kate Antiqueight, from Cork, Ireland, is involved in the #1Day1Woman challenge. "I'm trying to reach the end of this year slightly better than I did last year," she told Insider.
Last year, she wrote 199 articles about women. This year, her goal is to get to 365. "
She's committed to the cause because of long-standing frustration with iconic females being ignored. "Women have been airbrushed out of history," she added.
Some volunteers have made creating Wikipedia entries into a full-time job.
"I spend around nine hours a day writing on Wikipedia," a volunteer who goes by 'Susun' told Insider. "I retired 12 years ago and this is what I do, all day."
Susun was motivated to participate in Women In Red because she also grew up feeling like women were being erased from history.
"You'd go through a library and there would be all these books about great men in history but there just weren't any about women," she said. "For me, doing this gives young girls the sense that there are other people out there like them and that the possibilities are endless."
'It's a pretty hostile environment'
Susun requested that Insider withhold her last name because of her fear of harassment online.
"It's a pretty hostile environment, just like any online environment can be for women," she said. "There's a whole group of people that say we're pushing an agenda. It's too feminist, that sort of stuff."
Hannah, a 22-year-old volunteer from Toronto, Canada, also requested that her full name not be identified.
This is because she is concerned about an event that took place last month. A prominent White House photographer took issue with her Wikipedia biography, created by a Women In Red volunteer, and proceeded to identify and target the creator. She called the volunteer's family, employer, and the police, Hannah said.
Even the co-founder has had issues with cyber harassment. Stephenson-Goodknight received a thinly-veiled rape threat on her Wikipedia Talk page shortly after starting the project, she told Insider.
Aware of this, she has tried to ensure that the Women In Red discussions are an "anti-harassment zone."
"Our Talk page is a place where, if someone becomes uncivil, tried to harass an editor or anything, that comment would be immediately dealt with," she said.
Stephenson-Goodknight was awarded co-Wikimedian of the Year in 2016 by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales. This was, in part, thanks to her efforts to combat harassment on the website.
'The initial goal was just to move the needle'
Stephenson-Goodknight has received many plaudits for her work on Women In Red. In 2018, for example, she was honored with a Serbian knighthood.
Her proudest achievement, however, is playing a part in the creation of approximately 140,000 new Wikipedia articles on women.
This has increased the share of biographies about women from 15.5 percent to 18 percent. Approximately 700,000 of Wikipedia's 3.9 million biographies are now about women, according to Wikipedia's diversity tool Humaniki.
While there is still a long way to go, she said she is pleased with the progress.
"The initial goal was just to move the needle," Stephenson-Goodknight said. "We're not looking to get to 50 percent. We just want to improve from where we were because we know that we can do better."
Bamkin agrees. "If you weren't to a princess or a queen before 1820, you pretty much didn't exist in history," he said.
A more attainable goal, therefore, is to reach parity for all living women.
Doing so, Bamkin said, would have significant consequences. "When my granddaughter looks at Wikipedia, she'll see more women role models than she might have done if we hadn't made the effort."
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