Friday, May 17, 2013

Executive Summary

According to the second official Wikipedia Editor Survey conducted in December of 2011, women editors comprise only 9% of contributors to Wikipedia's “sum of all human knowledge”1. This significant lack of women and women's voices in the Wikipedia community has led to systemic bias towards male histories and culturally “masculine” knowledge (Bosch, 2012; Lam et al., 2011; Haralanova, 2012; Gardner, 2011; Potter, 2013; Walker, 2012; Wikimedia Meta-Wiki, 2013), and an editing environment that is often hostile and unwelcoming to women editors (Gardner, 2011; Lam et al., 2011; Wikimedia Meta-Wiki, 2013). The Wikipedia “gender gap”, as it has come to be known in Wikimedia circles, has increasingly become a large concern for the Wikimedia community, and a fair body of scholarly and non-scholarly work investigated and addressed the gender gap has materialized over the last few years. However, as much of this research has been on the “general” Wikipedia editing community, the vast majority of the outputs and dialogue that have been generated by these endeavours revolves predominately around the experiences of Western women on the English-language Wikipedia, and there has been little to no discourse on the significantly larger gender gaps in editing communities in the developing world. 

According to the same Editor Survey of 2011, India's editing community is only 3% female, but there has been little discussion on mainstream Wikipedian forums on why the participation of women in India is markedly lower than that of the Wikipedian population on average. Further, no directed research of any kind has attempted investigate this phenomenon.

This research thesis will attempt to investigate the gender gap in the Wikipedia community in India through an exploration of the contextual nature of the real and perceived barriers that both editors and non-editors face to contributing to Wikipedia. It is my hope that this research helps to generate a deeper understanding of those obstacles that prevent Indian women from becoming editors as well as demonstrate that context-specific research is needed to better understand those barriers and challenges that are faced by women from different regional, linguistic and socio-cultural backgrounds.

This research study has three main objectives: to generate a better understanding of the demographic composition of the current editing community in India; to investigate the barriers and challenges that Indian women face to their participation in the editing of Wikipedia through the exploration of the experiences of women who are currently editors and the perceptions of female non-editors; and to determine whether the barriers and challenges identified by the research subjects are unique to both the lived experiences and realities to there woman as well as to the Indian context. The research has a fourth, more long-term research objective, to produce research outputs that can be used to increase the effectivity of initiatives aimed at developing the Wikipedia editing community in India, but this objective will be given less focus during the data-gathering process.

This study hopes to work with the following three populations of research subjects in order to gather the necessary data required to meet the needs of the research objectives: the Indian Wikipedia editors community, the female members of the editing community and a group of Indian women who do not currently edit Wikipedia (the specific group will be decided at a later date). Data will be gathered from the Indian Wikipedia editing community through an online demographic study and one-on-one or group interviews with female editors, and an online qualitative and quantitive questionnaire will be circulated to the community of non-editors. This mixed methodology will hopefully lead to the generation of a large pool of data with significant potential for astute and insightful analysis.

While the research aims to generate a context-specific understanding of the barriers and challenges experienced by Indian women, considering the tremendous degree of culture, ethnic, linguistic and socio-economic diversity found within the Indian population and the time and resource limitations of the project itself, this study cannot realistically produce a complete account of the barriers that any one group of Indian woman face to their participation in India, nor can it hope to generate a highly nuanced and sophisticated exploration of the complexities and causal mechanisms that contextualize those barriers within the Indian society. Instead, the goal of this research is to perform an initial exploration of the themes that characterize the gender gap in the Indian Wikipedia editor community in hopes that it will lead to the discovery of avenues for more focused research in the future.

As very little regional, population or even context-specific research on the gender gap in Wikipedia has been carried out, and no such research has been done on the Indian editor population, any attempts to address the gender gap in India, or indeed the gender gap in any editing population whose cultural, socio-economic and societal contexts differ from those of the Western, caucasian, English-speaking world, are at risk of reproducing and even further entrenching the patterns of exclusion that already characterize the Wikipedia editing communities. The outputs of this research will not only be useful in designing more effective, context-appropriate development projects for the Indian Wikipedia editor community—particularly initiatives that aim to bridge the gender gap—but will also help the Wikipedia community at large to better understand the complex nature of the gender gap, which will hopefully stimulate similar investigations in India and elsewhere.

1 This is an oft-quoted phrase originally coined by Jimmy Wales, a co-founder of Wikipedia. While it is not Wikipedia's official catchphrase, it is often used in reference to the online encyclopedia.

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