“Only 17 percent of biographies on Wikipedia are about women. Help us change that!” read the event description on meetup.com.

Answering the clarion call, a group of strangers gathered inside the Embassy of Sweden in Washington D.C. on a recent Friday afternoon. With them: their IDs, laptops and chargers. Fifteen men and women participated in the Women’s Economic Empowerment Edit-a-thon, a project hosted by Wikimedia D.C. The nonprofit operates as a regional arm of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, by partnering with different organizations to host a variety of themed edit-a-thons.

“There are many people out there who don’t know, no matter how many times they view Wikipedia, that anyone can edit. Editing is easy,” said Ariel Cetrone, Wikimedia D.C.’s one full-time employee. Cetrone is responsible for managing partnerships and training new editors on Wikipedia. During the 10-minute crash course, she explained the accessibility of creating, editing and publishing an article. Then the article belongs to the public. It can be viewed and tweaked by anyone — including all 136,095 active English Wikipedia users on the web.

The content gender gap

Wikipedia has been one of the most popular sites on the Internet since its January 2001 inception.

Wikipedia has a whole article devoted to criticism of its content gender gap and the systemic bias in the online encyclopedia. A volunteer editor, who was likely a man, once wrote:

“… the nature and quantity of its content is biased due to the fact that a dominant majority of volunteer Wikipedia editors are male … Wikipedia has fewer and less extensive articles about women or topics important to women.”

This oversight has not gone unnoticed by Wikipedia, which has a program called "Women in Red.” Since 2015, the WikiProject is dedicated to growing the number of women biographies in English. And they’re doing that by mobilizing women volunteer editors.

The women volunteers

These are a few of the women who answered Wikimedia D.C.’s digital flier at the Embassy of Sweden. Cetrone noted that this group had one of the highest ratios of women she’d seen.

Here’s what some of the volunteer editors had to say:

“I’m a designer so I make a lot of stuff on the Internet, so I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can create more than I consume on the Internet, and Wikipedia felt like a good way. I was interested in this Meetup in particular because of the focus on women … This is the first time I’ve edited an article for Wikipedia.” — Meghan Lazier, 32

“I just moved back to Washington, and I learned about it through meetup.com. I came mostly because it was a social event, and it was Wikipedia and it was all women.” — Kate Dixon, 51

“I’m retired now, but I was a research librarian at Ohio State University. I know a lot about women cartoonists, and those are not well covered at all. I noticed that Wikipedia is not so good in that area, especially the early ones … so I thought I would love to share my knowledge. This is a way for me to learn. I liked the theme of women’s economic empowerment, as well.” — Maureen Donovan, 69

The partnership

In her opening remarks at the edit-a-thon, Karin Olofsdotter, the first female Swedish ambassador to the United States, stated that representation is critical for advancing the rights of women in every sector.

Hence, the Embassy of Sweden’s partnership with Wikimedia D.C.

Over the course of three hours, volunteer editors would focus on creating or editing new articles from a suggested list of notable Swedish women, like Isabella Löwengrip (business), Cecilia Malmström (politics) and Alicia Vikander (entertainment).

At the top of the list was Karin Olofsdotter herself, who didn’t have a dedicated Wikipedia page until just hours before.

But as Olofsdotter addressed her Meetup crowd, someone was updating her Wikipedia article in real-time. Andrew Lih — a prolific Wikipedia contributor and author of “The Wikipedia Revolution” — had already snapped a photo of Olofsdotter during her short speech and uploaded it to her page. Now she had a profile photo.

“I hope that if people are reading me, they can see that you can have a successful diplomatic career, while at the same time being a wife and mother to children. And now a dog,” added Olofsdotter.

(The day before, the diplomat had adopted a one-year-old Chihuahua mix named Raven.)

“I really hope they put my dog in,” she said, jokingly. “It’s terribly cute.”


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