“What I Learned While Editing Wikipedia” by Noopur Raval

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I was introduced to the Wikimedia movement primarily as a communications consultant for Wikimedia Foundation’s first Global South project that began in India in 2011. My work with the Wikimedia Foundation and editing Wikipedia has helped me take a hard look at myself as a woman of colour from India in technology.

After my initial stint with Wikipedia editing, I increasingly realized that the English version of Wikipedia lacked articles on Indian writers, famous personalities, cultural artefacts, and more. The problem is multi-layered and includes poor coverage of everything relating to non-western societies as well as to women within those societies. Once, I created article on Wikipedia about an Indian, female writer named Bama. She is from the lowest caste community called Dalits in India; and while the author is a celebrated writer of stories on the subject of double oppression (which is oppession of women by people of higher castes and oppression by men within their own communities), Wikipedia almost naturally had no record of her work. Sadly, within minutes of my creation of her article it was nominated for deletion. I then quickly added more references while simultaneously starting a discussion about why it should not be deleted. At that point, another Indian editor jumped in and helped with the explaination; the next day the deletion tag was removed.

Similarly, many articles on crafts and oral traditions that we tried to create as a part of our GLAM activity at the National Crafts Museum in Delhi underwent gruesome scrutiny because they were clearly not the usual subjects of Wikipedia additions and editing. This abysmal gap motivated me to start editing almost only just to fill these lacunae. Since then, I’ve also created articles on violence against women and female authors from India. My commitment only grown and gained momentum to do what I see as helping Wikipedia fullfill its mission to be “completely open and free.”

The question I ask myself now everyday is whether merely enabling access through infrastructure and providing free platforms like Wikipedia can help us resolve uneven digital geographies created in the process.

As part of the Women in Free Software and Culture in India group, I recently led a hackathon group to edit sexual violence out of Wikipedia. The group is a voluntary organization of women working in free software in India; we have a corresponding mailing list where we share news, have discussions, and organize events. One member of the group is a free software consultant who identifies as transgender. She is trying to educate people about transgender rights, including living and pay conditions, and supports the transgender community by being open about her sexual orientation. About her role and outlook on women in free software: “I have been looking into building ground level feminist perspectives into free and open source software (FOSS) to make the FOSS space more inclusive, expand it and free it from the impositions of the patriarchy. Towards this I have tried to educate quite a few FOSS and other activist groups on aspects of gender inclusiveness, diversity, combating sexism, micro-aggression, and rape culture.”

Through my work with the Wikimedia Foundation, editing Wikipedia, and becoming a part of that Wiki-verse—as well as through conversations I’ve had with many women in technology at conferences like AdaCampI’ve realized that it’s not only gender but also a configuration of other identities like race, class, and colour that emerge as players in the dynamics of groups working on collaborative projects. For some they are obstacles, for others they are interesting aspects that enrich the process.

I also believe that there is a solid need to re-articulate these differences of gender, colour, discrimination, and most of all, the privileges given to bridge the gender gap. It is obviously not a question of allocating more resources to women but also of striving to create safe-spaces and the necessary support structure that can help women resist personal attacks, hostility, and confrontations without having to appear more masculine or justify their existence in open source and free knowledge communities.


Watch this video of Noopur Raval talking about editing Wikipedia.