Wikipedia, the encyclopedia of everything, is mostly about men. According to Women in Red, an in-house Wikipedia improvement project, less than 18 per cent of the site’s 1.5 million biography pages are about women. And that figure actually represents an improvement: In late 2014, the number was 15 per cent.
A lot of that progress is thanks to Women in Red itself, which was founded in 2015 to increase and improve the site’s coverage of women.
Of course, most of written history concerns men, since most humans in recorded history have lived under a patriarchal society. So there’s more source material about them. But that doesn’t fully explain Wikipedia’s skew.
As New Statesman reports, major articles leave out prominent women. “History of Chemistry”, for example, names 200 men and four women, ignoring major figures such as Nobel-winning metabolics researcher Gerty Cori and CRISPR researcher Jennifer Doudna, who, according to her own Wikipedia page, “has made fundamental contributions in biochemistry and genetics”. It isn’t that there aren’t more women worth covering; it’s that they’re being ignored.
Women in Red (named after the red text that signifies a link to a non-existent Wikipedia entry) is fighting that. The project organises people working on Wikipedia entries about women. When a Wikipedia contributor creates, or significantly improves, an entry, they can add it to the project’s list.
January’s list includes 182 entries, most of them new, covering women of the present and past. Most are still short. But if you look at their page history, you’ll see something encouraging.
Once someone creates even a stub of an entry, it’s common to see someone else come in and add more supporting material, or fit the entry into existing Wikipedia categories, or clean up some formatting.
These new entries aren’t just getting dumped and ignored; they’re entering the ecosystem where more Wikipedia editors can improve them. Which is important, as the vast majority — as much as 90 per cent — of Wikipedia editors are male.
Women in Red encourages editors to publicise their contributions, marking on the project page if they’ve shared a new contribution on social media. The project’s front page lists articles that have been nominated for special features such as Wikipedia’s “Did You Know” section, as well as articles nominated for deletion.
That way, project members can defend, promote and improve each other’s pieces, to ensure they earn a real and permanent place on the site.
As a reader, you can bookmark Women in Red to find interesting new entries. You’ll notice what surprising omissions the world’s biggest encyclopedia has made until very recently.
And when you’re ready, you can add your own contribution. Women in Red has a categorised list of thousands of women who don’t have Wikipedia entries yet — despite being mentioned elsewhere on the site.