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The fifth annual Wikipedia Academy conference in Israel was held last month (on June 2, 2013) by Wikimedia Israel in the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. The central theme of this year’s conference was “Why Do Women Edit Wikipedia Less.” The Wikipedia Academy conference has become a tradition in Wikimedia Israel, and each year we are honored to see the registration list fill up quickly. This year’s event attracted an audience of 150, among them Wikipedians, members of academia and the business world. We regretted that we had to decline many of the professionals wishing to give lectures.

The conference opened with a display of statistical data from a survey conducted by Wikimedia Israel, according to which 23 percent of Israeli Wikipedians are women (compared to 10–15 percent in other parts of the world), 57 percent of Wikipedians are single and have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, 15 percent are under the age of 15 and 5 percent are over 60. Only 29 percent of the editors said they wrote new articles; the others engaged in adding content to existing articles, correcting mistakes and adding media.

Wikimedia Foundation Board trustee Bishakha Datta

The conference continued with a fascinating talk by Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees member Bishakha Datta, who opened by presenting the cultural differences on Wikipedia, especially with developing countries such as India, where Bishakha herself is from. She talked about women’s education, starting from a very young age, which calls on women to abandon their goals and ambitions and focus on raising their children, causing many women not to understand that they hold vital knowledge and skills. Bishakha continued by showing the results of a global Wikimedia Foundation survey, which indicated a significant gender-based divide and contempt for women’s knowledge in many parts of the world. She summarized by saying that women hold unique information essential to our movement’s goals of spreading free knowledge, an egalitarian mission not limited to any one gender.

After the talk, there was a women’s panel with Karin Nahon, a politicization of information expert, Yael Meron, a board member of Wikimedia Israel, Shaula Heitner from the board of the Israel Internet Association (ISOC-IL), Douglas Itoh, a Wikipedia editor, and Ronit Haber, the editor-in-chief of the Saloona magazine. The panel discussed the reasons behind low female participation in Wikipedia, and whether just the women—or the community as a whole—were responsible for changing this phenomenon.

The second session of the conference was moderated by Dr. Keren Eyal and began with a speech by Member of the Knesset Dr. Aliza Lavie, who heads the Knesset committee for the status of women. The second session dealt with the theoretical and practical aspects of women’s participation in Wikipedia, from the point of view of the academic establishment. Lectures were given by Dr. Tal Ertan Bergman from the faculty of health and welfare at Haifa University, Shlomit Lear from the gender studies program in the Bar Ilan University, and Dr. Atara Frenkel-Paran, chief of the digital communications program at the Sapir Academic College.

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The conference ended with the third session, where Wikimedia Israel presented its new community projects and how women in the community were changing the education and culture establishment. Talks were given by Shani Evenstein, a board member and the chapter’s GLAM coordinator, and other participants in the panel included Dr. Allison Kopiacki of the Israel Museum and Deror Lin, a volunteer in the movement and the coordinator of the Wiki Loves Monuments competition in Israel. A Wikipedia editor workshop was held at the end of the conference for those who signed up in advance.

There is no doubt that the conference was eye opening. However, it is worth noting that the male attendance was comparatively low. Conference attendees discussed the implications of what it means if events focused on women-related issues only interest women. Regardless, we are convinced that many women came out of the conference with new understandings and a motivation to take the responsibility of closing the gender gap upon themselves by starting to edit Wikipedia.

Wikimedia Israel would like to thank Bishakha Datta, who came all the way from India to honor us with her presence. In addition, many thanks to the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, which has hosted the conference for the second year in a row, to the Israel Internet Association and Saloona Magazine for their support, to all the speakers who agreed to volunteer some of their time for this important cause, and of course to Deror Lin and Itzik Edri for their hard work organizing the conference. Most importantly, we’d like to thank the 150 participants, Wikipedia editors and Wikimedia movement volunteers, whose contributions have been felt throughout the entire year.

Chen Davidi, Wikimedia Israel’s Activity Coordinator