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From May 23 to May 25, around twenty women from the worldwide Wikimedia movement attended WikiWomenCamp in Buenos Aires, to explore challenges facing women who contribute to the free knowledge movement, and to discuss opportunities to actively support the spread of free knowledge by communicating how successful strategies can be applied to outreach in different countries and cultures.

In the wider Wikimedia community, there is a perception of a big gender gap for female participation on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. The problem of low female participation extends to activities outside the wikis as well. As a member of the community, I’ve seen this first hand: At meetups, I’ve been one of few women to have participated. On movement related mailing lists, women are often far outnumbered by men. Many chapter boards have no female members.

Three of the organizers of WikiWomenCamp: Beria, Laura and Beatriz

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Part of a session where the question of why women do not contribute to Wikipedia was discussed

The lack of female involvement behind the scenes is not because of a lack of opportunity. If you are a woman and you want to be involved with the movement in this way, opportunities abound if you are willing to look, spot an opportunity and do the work. At GLAMcamp Amsterdam last December, there were eleven women in attendance out of around sixty participants.

Because of a strong desire to work with women who I would not otherwise have the opportunity to interact with, I deliberately sought out these participants at GLAMcamp and discussed the possibility of running an all women Wikimedia conference with them. Someone suggested that we ask Wikimedia Argentina for assistance because four of their ten board members are female. This was a good idea as I’d originally thought of Australia, whose Wikimedia chapter has always had at least one woman on its board, but four women was really impressive.

Support for the conference materialised quickly: Wikimedia Australia committed financial support for the proposed conference as a way to address the gender gap and to encourage global female leadership. Wikimedia Argentina had a vigorous debate about the need for a women only event before agreeing to host the conference because women needed this support. Wikimedia Deutschland also came on board to support this gathering. Conference organisation at the very top was led by all women, including myself from Wikimedia Australia, Beatriz Busaniche from Wikimedia Argentina, Béria Lima from Wikimedia Portugal and Anne Goldenberg, our facilitator.

Sue Gardner at WikiWomenCamp

Anja Ebersbach from Germany, Siska Doviana from Indonesia and Netha Hussain from India between sessions

As organisers, we had several considerations. They included a location outside Europe and the United States, because it is hard for those outside that region to justify continual travel to these places, and where English was not the native language to ensure that non-native English speakers would feel empowered to speak while also easily allowing bi-lingual participation. We selected Open Space as the facilitation type, as we believed it would give women who might not otherwise speak more opportunity to do so.

With support from our chapters and other organisations, our group managed to pull it off. Women and transgendered people attended from Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Germany, India, Indonesia, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the US and several regions of Argentina. These women spoke various levels of English and Spanish, and included age ranges from university students to retired women. The Wikimedia Foundation’s Executive Director Sue Gardner also attended for the final day, and gave a keynote speech at WikiGénero, a separate conference on the gender gap immediately following WikiWomenCamp. Many participants were really pleased Sue attended because we felt it demonstrated her and the Foundation’s global support for addressing gender imbalances inside the movement that she would travel so far, to a female and chapter led conference. Her attendance increased our respect for her and makes it easier for us to go back to our local communities to say we have support for our efforts.

Every participant felt that she had benefited from having attended. The long hours in transit and the language and visa issues were all worth the fantastic opportunity that would not have happened had we not decided to accept a leadership role on our own initiative, and along the way gained valuable experience in conference organisation.

Moving forward, there are plans to host a second WikiWomenCamp in 2013 with an announcement to be made by mid-July 2012. There are research efforts to better document women’s participation in the movement found at Perspectives which will be published by the year’s end and distributed to the Foundation and chapters that sent participants. Wikimedia Australia will be announcing a programme in the next month to capitalise on the success of the conference. Other chapters have already indicated support for WikiWomenCamp going forward.

To learn more about the conference, please read blog entries by participants and a newspaper article covering the event:

 

Laura Hale

VP of Wikimedia Australia and (one of the) conference organiser(s)