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Help the BBC Close Wikipedia’s Gender Gap

The Beeb’s hosting an edit-a-thon to improve the online encylopedia’s coverage of women

Wikipedia has a woman problem—that women themselves can tackle. (iStock/stevanovicigor)
smithsonian.com

Wikipedia is one of the world’s largest websites—the English version alone includes over 5.3 million individual articles, many of which receive over a million hits per day. But the site has a problem with gender. How to improve coverage of women in a place that depends on volunteer contributors for articles? The BBC has a solution: Take matters into your own hands. That’s why its sponsoring a worldwide edit-a-thon today to improve the online encyclopedia’s coverage of women.

The edit-a-thon, which will continue until 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time, is aimed at tackling the gender gap by focusing on biographical articles about women. It’s part of the BBC’s 100 Women list, which counts down the most influential, inspirational women of the year. Only an estimated 17 percent of the existing biographical content on the site concerns women, the BBC says, so it makes sense to add more noteworthy women to flesh out its coverage.

By barraging Wikipedia with biographical articles about women, editors could also increase the number of women who participate on the site. A 2011 report noted that 91 percent of the site’s editors were male, and though the site’s annual growth of women editors was estimated to be 8.5 percent, that naturally leads to less content about women.

The BBC isn’t the first group to host edit-a-thons in the hopes of increasing representation; the tactic has been used to flesh out the site’s coverage of life sciences, black history and indigenous peoples, too. But the broad reach of the BBC means its effort can be truly global. Not only is it hosting 15 events in 13 countries, but it’s liveblogging all of its efforts. Public figures are also nominating women they think deserve to be recognized and written about, like Beyoncé songwriter Carla Marie Williams and CEO Sarah Weir.

So far, the initiative has resulted in Wikipedia articles for figures like Rebecca Frances Lyne-Pirkis, the beloved Welsh contestant on "The Great British Bake Off," and Preethi Srinivasan, a cricket star turned disability activist.

Can’t make the edit-a-thon? Don’t worry—Wikipedia never turns off, so there’s always a chance to improve its coverage of women or create new articles. Getting started is pretty easy, and the effects could be huge. After all, the site is what people make it…and as arguably the world’s most influential source of information, any progress toward including women is a pretty big deal.

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