In April this year, an American author, Amanda Filipacchi, wrote a piece titled Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists, on the New York Times website in reaction to the discovery that women were being moved from the American Novelists category to a sub-category American Women Novelists. Following that James Gleick, an American author, journalist and biographer, shared his thoughts expanding on this on the New York Review of Books blog, with his opinion piece, Wikipedia’s Women Problem. Early this year, in the Freakonomics Radio Podcast Women Are Not Men, there was a discussion on how less than 16% of Wikipedia editors are women and the impact on the actual content.
The view of Wikipedia as being the great leveller as an online encyclopedia with the ‘ordinary person’ being in a position to contribute and the ‘crowd self-correcting’ to ensure greater accuracy is running into some problems. To begin with, “The average Wikipedian on the English Wikipedia is (1) a male, (2) technically inclined, (3) formally educated, (4) an English speaker (native or non-native), (5) aged 15–49, (6) from a majority-Christian country, (7) from a developed nation, (8) from the Northern Hemisphere, and (9) likely employed as a white-collar worker or enrolled as a student rather than being employed as a laborer.”
For me, as an African, the greater question and issue becomes, if less than 16% are women, and the majority are as above, it can be safe to assume that there are even fewer African editors which, therefore, means that contributions on anything Africa related are going to be biased and limited. While there are initiatives to bring African contributors online, it would need to be systematic and broad enough to ensure that each aspect of each country is adequately represented. And it needs contributors who are prolific enough to ensure that this is done as comprehensively as it has been internationally.
Sometimes it feels like the mountain the continent has to climb is beyond anything we can do. To ensure that we tell our stories and change the African positive paradigm from safaris, beautiful landscapes and ‘no winter’ to the reality of our day-to-day, it can’t operate in isolation. Margaret Mead said ““Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Being in the ‘content space’, sometimes I wonder whether, in this instance, it needs more than the small group.
I would be interested in hearing thoughts on how we can bring more African editors on board.