A Party Where People Write Women into History, Literally

What do Baton Rouge protestor Ieshia Evans, World War Two codebreaker Helen Nibouar, and Beyonce songwriter Carla Marie Williams have in common? Before 8th December they were not recognized in the world’s largest encylopedia, Wikipedia. 

But after a record-breaking event organized by BBC they and over 400 other history-making women now have profiles available at the world’s fingertips.

The Wikipedia ‘edit-a-thon‘ was organized for the BBC 100 women season – an annual series of films, events and interviews about women of the 21st century. On December 8th women and men from London to Washington to Delhi logged into Wikipedia to create profiles for previously forgotten women.

Deborah Basckin explained why she organized the event: “Men aren’t mean, they’re not bad, they’re not malicious… but they are editing Wikipedia. And the content reflects that. Wikipedia strives to be the sum of all human knowledge [but] fewer women are profiled, the language skews male, and articles that are considered ‘women’s issues’ are substantially shorter.”

It’s a problem that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wants to solve. “A lot of the achievements of women were not well covered in the media nor in books”, he explained to the BBC. But progress has not been speedy.  Just 17% of profiles are about women and 15% of Wikipedia editors are female.

The gender imbalance denies the public important information – but crucially it makes the achievements of women seem less valued and less significant. The minimal role of women in our history books is caused by this very issue of failing to document women‘s achievements or to tell their stories. 

“This is why it’s really important that we get more women involved in editing Wikipedia because they will know about [different] things and have read different authors,” Jimmy Wales told the BBC. Anyone can create or edit a Wikipedia page and ‘edit-a-thons’ are increasingly common as part of efforts to address inequalities in how societies document and value the work of groups traditionally not recognized.

So who was added to the Wikipedia annals of history?

Fatuma Ali Saman is a Kenyan women’s rights campaigner. She lobbies for the inclusion of women in public life in the East African country and has advocated for enrollment of girls in schools and for abolition of practice of female genital mutilation. You can read her profile here.

Margery Spring Rice was also added. She was a British social reformer and birth control advocate. Her profile explains that she set up a birth control clinic in London in the 1920s, and during World War 2 she ran a nursery for evacuated children.

The co-founder of Migrant Offshore Aid Station, Regime Catrambone, can now also be found on Wikipedia. Previously just her husband was profiled. The organisation specialises in search and rescue of migrants, and has been particular active in the Meditteranean Sea during the European refugee crisis.

You can also now read all about Ieshia Evans, Helen Nibouar and Carla Marie Williams.