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A 1950s advertisement modified to promote a Wikipedia editing event. A drawing of a stylish woman has had her eyes, mouth and nose crossed out, with tongue-in-cheek caption indicating that her talents are wasted if she isn't on Wikipedia

It’s officially March, which means it’s officially Women’s History Month! At SUP, we’re very excited to be celebrating with a Wikipedia edit-a-thon. We’ll be getting together with students, staff and the wider community to improve the representation of Australian women in the world’s favourite reference work.

We all love Wikipedia. But did you know that it has a diversity problem? Multiple studies, by Wikipedia and by independent researchers, have found that women are badly underrepresented. Only between 9 and 12 percent of Wikipedia editors identify as women, and only about 16 percent of individual profiles on Wikipedia are about women.

As a result, women in a range of fields aren’t as widely known as they might be. For readers, students, journalists and others who might rely on Wikipedia for quick and easy information, women’s achievements are less discoverable than men’s.

Of course, there’s more to the internet than Wikpedia, and many of the women missing from Wikipedia are amply documented elsewhere. But whether we like it or not, a person’s presence or absence on Wikipedia sends googlers a message about that person’s significance. If a notable physicist, architect or composer is invisible on Wikipedia, her work may be neglected or undervalued by general readers, by her colleagues, and by posterity.

Pretty grim, right? But there’s an easy way for us to do something about it. We can edit! For the past several years, organisations around the world have been holding feminist edit-a-thons, aka Wikibombs. At these collaborative get-togethers, participants can learn how to edit while filling in some of Wikipedia’s gaps. Last March there were at least 125 Women in Wikipedia events in over 20 countries, with more than 1500 participants. An American organisation, Art+Feminism, has produced a terrific array of resources for editors and event organisers, making it easy to share ideas and information.

A young woman and an older woman work together on a laptop

Participants in a Wikipedia edit-a-thon share skills and knowledge. Photo: Michael Mandiberg CC SA-BY

Last November, we heard about a Melbourne event co-hosted by the fabulous Stella Prize and Hot Chicks with Big Brains, and were inspired to organise something similar in Sydney. Ever since we tentatively mentioned the idea, we’ve been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response. There seems to be a real hunger at the moment for concrete, immediate ways to take action against sexism and misinformation, and events like this are one way to do so.

As well, we hope the event will be an opportunity for community building. It’s a chance to get students, library staff, academics and the wider community working together. For students, it’s an opportunity to learn new skills, discover new role models, and put their research and writing skills into practice. A student who creates or improves a Wikipedia page gets a real taste of how their work can have an immediate impact on the world, and how it can connect them to a wider community. Some teachers are even incorporating Wikipedia editing into their classrooms, with impressive results.

For Sydney University Press and for the Library, it’s a chance to showcase the things we do best. An event like this draws on our research, editorial and communication skills, our IT skills, and (we hope!) reminds students and staff of the role we aspire to play on campus.

During the next few weeks, we’ll be blogging about our preparations for the event, and about the broader Wikibomb movement. Please keep an eye on the event’s Facebook page and on our Twitter feed, #editathon and #wmnshist, for updates.

A modified version of the famous Rosie the Riveter World War 2 poster, replacing the slogan We Can Do It with We Can Edit

Editing for a cause. Wikimedia Commons

We’ve also begun to compile a list of notable Australian women missing from Wikipedia, which we encourage anyone interested to add to. To highlight just one example, last week the Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann was awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards – yet at the time of writing, she doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry. If nobody gets in first, we’ll be aiming to correct this on 28 March!

If you’ll be in Sydney on the day, we would love for you to come along. Please RSVP via Eventbrite. If you’re further afield, we’ll be live-tweeting the event and encourage people to take part remotely, and/or to seek out similar events via Wikimedia Australia and Art+Feminism. Please get in touch via Facebook or email (denise.odea@sydney.edu.au) if you have questions or would like to get involved.

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