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Friday, April 19, 2019
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Emerson Student Wants to Close Wikipedia Gender Gap

If you look something up on Wikipedia, one of the 10 largest websites on the Internet in terms of page views and the first place many people go for information, chances are whatever you read is either about or written by a man.

“There is a huge gender gap,” said Abhishek Suryawanshi, a first-year graduate student in Communication Management at Emerson College. “Only 8 percent of content is written by females, and that is a huge, huge gap.”

Suryawanshi wants to change that. In August, he served as a trainer/organizer at the United Nations #HerStory Edit-a-thon, held at the UN Headquarters in New York City, where he led university students in editing sessions intended to close the gender gap on the giant online reference site.

About 100 women participated in the workshop, which included UN staff, said Suryawanshi, who has worked with Wikipedia for the last six years, including as an ambassador with the Wikipedia Education Program, founder of the Wikipedia Club in his native India, and director of the Wikipedia Summit India.

The workshop included hands-on training in writing and adding articles to Wikipedia, as well as how to add references and edit existing articles, he said.

The UN Her Story Edit-a-thon was organized by the Wikipedia community, with support from UN Women and the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. It was held on August 12, International Youth Day.

Five percent of the world’s population visits Wikipedia each day, he said, which is why it’s so crucial that the content is representative of all of those visitors.

Women aren’t only underrepresented in terms of authorship, Suryawanshi said. They comprise just 16 percent of biographies on the site, he said, up from 13 percent last year.

Suryawanshi said the gender gap is slowly but steadily improving, and he would like Emerson to help keep up the momentum. He’s hoping to start similar workshops on campus for students and faculty.

“The major concept behind it is, for example, if students write something on Facebook or Twitter, how many people read it?” Suryawanshi said. “We can do the same on Wikipedia and reach more of an audience.”

As a communication school with a commitment to diversity and representation, Emerson is well poised to help reverse the gender deficit, Suryawanshi said. And, unlike many traditional research papers, Wikipedia is forever.

“A student can tell his grandkids, ‘You know that article…I started that article!’” he said.

Moves have already been afoot at Emerson to diversify Wikipedia.

As an assignment last semester, students in Magda Romanska’s World Drama class researched and added Wikipedia entries for underrepresented playwrights and plays, including women, people of color, people with disabilities, and others.