Arab Youth Write The Untold Stories of Women on Wikipedia


More than 500 volunteer editors collaborated for the edit-a-thons held in Cairo, Alexandria, Rabat, Amman, and Beirut and edited articles related to women’s contribution and issues.

Photo: UN Women/Emad Karim

                                                                                                    In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8 this year, UN Women collaborated with Swedish embassies in the Arab States and with youth volunteers to convene a series of HerStory edit-a-thons to promote knowledge of women and their experiences through the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. “Edit-a-thons” were convened in Cairo, Alexandria, Rabat, Beirut, and Amman, bringing together more than 500 volunteers. Editathons will be organized in UAE and Iraq as well.

 HerStory is a youth-led initiative, launched in 2016 by the UN Women Regional Office for the Arab States, which aims to increase the number of articles on Wikipedia that relate the stories and experiences of women. Supported by UN Women’s Men and Women for Gender Equality Programme, HerStory is about recording human experiences from a feminist perspective, emphasizing the role of women. The initiative aims to address the absence and exclusion of women from historical records over centuries that have minimized the roles women have played in history, politics, science, technology, leadership, and religion.

Edit-a-thon organized at the Swedish Institute Alexandria. 
Photo: UN Women/ Emad Karim
“Education does not exist only in schools or universities; open source platforms like Wikipedia are changing the structure of digital knowledge. Our volunteers are researching, translating, editing, and analyzing data that makes the invisible women more visible,” May Hashem, HerStory Co-Founder.

 Mr. Mohammad Naciri, UN Women’s Regional Director for the Arab States, emphasized: “We need to create a supportive environment that promotes youth to become active players in socio-economic transformation. First and foremost, we need to ensure that knowledge production and dissemination platforms like Wikipedia reflect the experiences of both women and men. UN Women will continue to support young women and men to raise awareness on gender equality amongst their peers and society and HerStory is one practical example of how they are making a positive change.”

Blerta Aliko, UN Women’s Egypt Country Representative at the Cairo Edit-a-thon. 
Photo: UN Women/ Emad Karim  

While women and girls make up 50% of the world’s population, a recent survey[1] showed that less than 13% of Wikipedia contributors worldwide are women and only 4.2% of all articles on Arabic Wikipedia are about women. The lack of visibility of women’s experiences and contributions to the breadth of human achievement is particularly striking given Wikipedia’s significance as a global online resource with 18 billion visits every month.

 The Executive Director of Wikimedia Foundation, Sue Gardner, has noted that this lack of women’s representation on the platform may in part be related to the hostile environment women face online. In working to increase the number of articles by and about women on Wikipedia, the HerStory initiative also aims to foster a more inclusive and constructive environment for women, girls and all people engaging in online platforms. This effort is in line with the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which recognizes the importance of using modern technologies to achieve sustainable development and calls on all nations to “enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women”.

 “As a young feminist collective, Fe-Male is committed to producing and spreading feminist knowledge for the aim of enhancing women's rights and achieving gender equality. Contributing to writing women's stories is a vital part of the above goal, and helps in eliminating the gender gap in knowledge, technology and history.” Hayat Mershad, Founder of Fe-Male at the HerStory Edit-a-thon in Beirut.

Photo: Association Fe-Male.

Noting this internet gender gap, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs began a related initiative #WikiGap in 2018 which also aims to increase the number of articles about women on Wikipedia through edit-a-thons with partners and volunteers. The edit-a-thons convened in the Arab States were part of an international drive including 40 countries.


“The simplest action we can do, is to write about all those great women who have positively contributed to the progress of their societies and who have been a role model for others.” Aisha Salman, Jordan. Volunteers at the HerStory/WikiGap edit-a-thon, Amman discuss their articles. Photo: UN Women Jordan

“Gender equality is essential to progress and development,” said the Swedish Ambassador to Egypt Mr. Jan Thesleff, welcoming volunteers to the edit-a-thon held at the Greek Campus of the American University in Cairo. “We are happy to participate as one of more than 40 Swedish embassies globally that will be part of the WikiGap campaign. Highlighting women and their achievements is an important step in bridging the gender gap around the world.”

 UN Women Regional Office for Arab States has been working with youth networks across the Arab States region to address the lack of female representation in Wikipedia. UN Women has set itself and its partners an ambitious target to target the number of articles on Wikipedia that examine gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls between 2018 and 2020, which entails the production of 25,000 articles. To reach this ambitious goal, UN Women is inviting other UN Agencies, civil society, private sector, public libraries, universities, museums, and gender experts to join the HerStory movement.

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[1] Glott, Ruediger; Schmidt, Philipp; Ghosh, Rishab (March 2010). "Wikipedia Survey: Overview Results" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 April 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2014.