Why 'women's voices disappear' on Wikipedia and what Hamilton women are doing about it

Canada Learning Code’s Hamilton Chapter and Broad Conversations co-hosted a feminist Wikipedia edit-a-thon on Mar. 6.

Only 8.5-16 per cent of Wikipedia editors are women, while the rest are men

Canada Learning Code's Hamilton Chapter and Broad Conversations teamed up to host a Wikipedia edit-a-thon on Mar. 6. (Canada Learning Code- Hamilton Chapter.)

When it comes to editing the free, online information resource Wikipedia, the work is almost entirely done by men. And now, more than ever, Hamilton women are fighting to change that.

"The higher you go up the chain [on Wikipedia] women's voices disappear," said Erin O'Neil, co-lead of the Canada Learning Code's Hamilton Chapter. 

Meg Smith, the other leader of the Canada Learning Code group in Hamilton agrees. "There's a bit of a problem with women being on the platform [Wikipedia] — they're getting blocked with their edits," she said. "As well there's some misogyny in that space so we're trying to get women's presence on the site."

I think it's exciting the issue has been identified and there is a global movement to do something about it. We get to be a tiny part of it here in Hamilton.- Erin O'Neil, a co-lead of the Canada Learning Code's Hamilton Chapter

Wikipedia, the internet's largest source of free information, has faced criticism after female editors made allegations of harassment by their male counterparts while doing the same work.

O'Neil and Smith organized an "edit-a-thon" in Hamilton Tuesday to encourage more women to become Wikipedia editors.

"The purpose of the edit-a-thon is to raise awareness [about the gender bias problem on Wikipedia] as well as actually do something about it," said O'Neil.

Wikipedia conducted a survey on how many editors are male opposed to female and transgender editors. (Wikipedia )

Wikipedia edit-a-thons have taken place for years all over the world. This marks Hamilton's third year contributing feminist content to the website.

According to Wikipedia's research, "[The site] has fewer and less extensive articles about women or topics important to women." As well, Wikipedia conducted a survey in 2011 indicating between 8.5-16 per cent of Wikipedia editors are women while the rest of the 84-91.5 per cent is men.

In a 2015 story The Atlantic reported that male Wikipedia editors started harassing women after they spoke up about their edits being changed by the male editors.

This prompted the Wikimedia Foundation to set a new goal, to make 25 per cent of the Wikipedia editors women by the end of 2015. That goal was never reached.

Meg Smith, a co-leader of the Canada Learning Code's Hamilton Chapter. (Kandel Millward/CBC)

According to The Atlantic, in 2011, Sue Gardner, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, discovered women didn't want to participate as editors with Wikipedia anymore due to the sexism and misogyny that was involved with their work. One woman claims that on some Wikipedia movie pages, rape scenes were often described as sex scenes, and when people tried to change the wording to the appropriate term, the male editors would change it back.

Organizers say that Canada Learning Code was formed in 2011, due to these perceived gender biases.

Canada Learning Code has reached over 82,000 individuals since 2011 with their various programs. (Canada Learning Code)

"The original series was Ladies Learning Code on Saturday mornings with lessons on how to build their own website," said O'Neil. "Now we have many other programs all focusing on affordable, beginner friendly programs that are really supportive environments so people can learn code."

Canada Learning Code offers many programs to teach women and girls code. (Canada Learning Code)

Canada Learning Code's statistics state they have reached over 82,000 people since their launch back in 2011.

Canada Learning Code offers a number of programs intended to teach women and girls the technical side of learning code, including programs like Ladies' Learning Code and Teacher's Learning Code.

Broad Conversations is a Hamilton based group of feminists who meet together on a regular basis.

"I started Broad Conversations last year as an experiment to bring Hamilton feminists together and have conversations on a broad range of topics," said O'Neil. 

O'Neil believes, since launching the Hamilton chapter's edit-a-thon's, the meetups have helped women develop in the tech community in the city.

Broad Conversations is a Hamilton based group who invites feminists to come out and talk about broad topics. (Broad Conversations)

"In Hamilton we've seen people go form being a learner in one workshop to a mentor within a year, then they decided to move into a more tech related field," says O'Neil.

"I think it's exciting the issue has been identified and there is a global movement to do something about it. We get to be a tiny part of it here in Hamilton."