Iraqi youth closing the gender knowledge gap, one Wikipedia article at a time

Date: Sunday, August 19, 2018

HerStory Volunteers at the Editathon organized at the Sweden Embassy in Baghdad. Photo: UN Women Iraq

Baghdad, Iraq – To mark World Humanitarian Day on 19 August, UN Women Iraq office joined forces with the Sweden Embassy in Baghdad and young volunteers to convene an “editathon” to promote knowledge of Iraqi women and their experiences through the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Twenty volunteers mostly university students and graduates and active youth in civil society and promotion of gender equality joined the editathon and edited more than 40 articles of noble Iraqi women who have remarkable leadership in the humanitarian and peacebuilding efforts.  

Iraqi women are leading the effort to find new avenues to provide humanitarian assistance, advocate for peace, and to participate in open and honest dialogue on national reconciliation. Women are working to build bridges between communities to advance a democratic, economically prosperous and peaceful Iraq. Moreover, and as seen in negotiation and reconciliation processes around the world, when women are involved in humanitarian action, peacebuilding and broader reconciliation efforts have a greater chance of success. However, many of these inspiring women and their contributions are not fully documented or celebrated.

“Deep seated discriminatory norms, stereotypes and prejudice remain pervasive, holding back Iraqi women and girls from realizing their rights and contributing to national development. Today, Iraqi youth are defying those stereotypes and prejudices and writing the untold stories of the inspiring women who contributed and who are contributing every day to a better and peaceful Iraq,” said Dina Zorba, Iraq Country Representative, UN Women.

HerStory Volunteers at the “editathon” organized at the Sweden Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo: UN Women Iraq

While women and girls make up 50% of the world’s population, a 2017 survey showed that only 4.2% of all articles about humans on Arabic Wikipedia are about women’s lives and experiences. UN Women through its HerStory initiative has been working with youth networks across the Arab States region to address this imbalance, with an ambitious target of doubling the number of articles on Wikipedia that address gender and empowerment of women and girls by 2020.  The HerStory initiative aims to make women’s achievements and experiences more visible and to counter negative stereotypes about women by showcasing their important contributions throughout human history.

“I am very proud of the work UN Women is doing and the fact that this is the first time we host an editathon here in Baghdad. It’s humbling to see the commitment of these young people to continue supporting HerStory even after the event ends,” said Safa Salwan, HerStory volunteer, founder and lead organizer of the Iraq chapters of Google Developers Groups, Google Women Techmakers, Arab Women in Computing and World Merit.

Swedish Ambassador H.E. Mr. Pontus Melander with HerStory volunteers. Credit: UN Women Iraq

“Nine out of ten articles on Wikipedia are written by men and there are four times as many articles about men than there are about women and their achievements. Representation of women is a key element in Sweden’s feminist foreign policy. Our work to increase women’s visibility on Wikipedia is a concrete example of that policy,” said H.E. Mr. Pontus Melander, Ambassador of Sweden.

The effort by the youth volunteers to bridge the gender knowledge gap has attracted the support of the Government of Sweden, whose feminist foreign policy aims to strengthen women’s and girls’ rights, representation and resources. #WikiGap is an initiative by Swedish embassies around the world to support efforts by local networks to increase the representation of articles by and about women on Wikipedia. In celebration of International Women’s day on 8 March 2018, Embassies of Sweden in more than 40 countries supported editathons around the world. In the Arab States region, hundreds of volunteers worked together in Egypt, Jordan and Morocco to edit and translate articles into Arabic to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Iraq editathon contributed to this regional network.