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Isla Haddow-Flood on how Wikipedians are changing the narrative around Africa

Open Culture, Open Education



Wikipedians are an integral part of the CC Community, and as a key Wikipedian in Wiki Loves Women, WikiAfrica, and Wiki Loves Africa, Isla Haddow-Flood’s work is a crux for that community.

Isla’s accomplishments with these projects are self-evident: a Wikipedian since 2011, she has been integral in illuminating the content gaps and voices of women, Africans, and other marginalized groups within Wikipedia. As the former project manager for WikiAfrica and current volunteer, Isla’s work seeks to create content for all Wikipedians around the world and raise up the voices of the many, rather than the few.

Why is it important for more women to be involved with Wikipedia? What kinds of benefits does a more balanced gender dynamic bring to Wikipedia?

A lot of research has been done into the systemic bias behind the skewed content on Wikipedia. This is especially profound in relation to both content about Africa and content about women. Only 16% of the biographies on the English Wikipedia are about women and on English Wikipedia alone there are, on average,100 times more geotagged articles relating to France than articles similarly geotagged to the continental space of Africa.

There has been similar research done on Wikipedia contributors. The demographic of voluntary contributors has obvious implications on the makeup of the content, and the earlier systemic bias of the content makes sense because only 25% of edits to subjects about the Sub-Saharan region come from within that region and that less than 20% of (all) Wikipedia contributors are female. One analysis of content shows that only 12% of biographies in sub-saharan Africa are about women.

When the the collective impact of content and contribution gaps from women and Africans are combined, it creates not just a gap but an abyss. Women in Africa are some of the most marginalized groups in the world and Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that is meant to reflect the knowledge of all geographies, genders, interests, cultures and perspectives equally and this is not currently happening. The status quo will remain the same until people across Africa, especially women, see themselves and their reality truly and truthfully reflected – until they see they have an equal standing in the world and that they can be part of the global conversation and they see that Wikipedia is relevant to them, only then, will they can contribute their knowledge.

Why are you involved with Wiki Loves Women, WikiAfrica, and Wiki Loves Africa? What kinds of projects or events have been the most exciting to organize?

I have been a registered Wikipedian since 2011 and have been involved in supporting the WikiAfrica movement. WikiAfrica is an international project that encourages individuals, interested groups and organisations to create, expand and enhance online content about Africa.

As part of this movement I have partnered with people passionate about the Open Movement, including Florence Devouard, Iolanda Pensa, and Kelsey Wiens on a number of innovative projects in collaboration with several organisations. The interventions have been aimed at activating communities, capacitating volunteers, and encouraging the ‘liberation’ of content from organizations across Africa on to Wikipedia.
Wiki Loves Africa is an annual photographic competition where people contribute photos or media of that year’s specific theme. This year is Music and Dance running from the 1st December 2016 to 31st January 2017. We’ve previously covered Cuisine (2014) and Cultural fashion and adornment (2015). Photography is one of the easiest ways to contribute to Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons. It requires a good eye, an amazing subject, and an understanding of Creative Commons licences. It has been a successful project that sprung from the belief that there is so much to celebrate on a continent that is so visually and culturally rich.

"Another Busy Afternoon in Kenya," Zuraj Studio. 2015 Wiki Loves Africa Winner.

“Another Busy Afternoon in Kenya,” Zuraj Studio. 2015 Wiki Loves Africa Winner. CC BY-SA 4.0

The Wiki Loves Women project seeks to fill two major subject gaps – women and Africa. These gaps exist in content on these two themes, but also in terms of participation in the editorial level. It currently takes place in Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut.

What compels you to keep doing this work?

Because it is important, and because I love it! For a number of challenging reasons, Africa just doesn’t play in the same knowledge space that other regions do. This has to change, and with technology, it can. To do this,

It is important for people from Africa to tell their own stories: changing the narrative, shaking up stereotypes and sharing what they want to think, and how they want to feel, about being African.

And one way to do this is to share our complex, amorphous reality, both past and present, with the world on Wikipedia.

How does Wiki Loves Women and Wiki Loves Africa bring the offline online?

Both projects work at developing the community of volunteers around the content through training, events and contests.Wiki Loves Women has an amazingly varied array of events offline and online and interventions that the teams runs in the four countries that it is currently active in. You can see the range through the blog posts that are featured on our website.
Every year for Wiki Loves Africa, we reinforce the outreach of the project by supporting focus countries. These countries introduce and train interested individuals to contribute by arranging launch events, photo-hunts, upload, and prize-giving events.

For both projects it is about developing people’s passion about the world they live in, their immediate surroundings, traditions and issues. It is also about widening their understanding of copyright and copyleft – and introducing them to the Open Movement, specifically to Creative Commons to provide a slow yet fun, exciting, and social immersion into the world of Wikipedia. We work closely with Wikimedia volunteers and Usergroups, who in turn work with the CC affiliates and Open Street Maps (where possible) across Africa to ensure that we are all helping each other, and in some cases our activities have supported affiliate development and growth in countries, such as in Ethiopia.

How do you work with varying connectivity as well as offline community building for an online community?

The issue about connectivity and data is a very real one. We have come up with a solution, WikiFundi, that is funded by the Orange Foundation and currently being developed. It should be rolling out to the community in early 2017. WikiFundi is an offline editable environment that provides a similar experience to editing Wikipedia online. WikiFundi allows for training on, and contribution to, Wikipedia when technology, access and electricity outages fail or are not available at all.

To celebrate the launch of WikiFundi, in early 2017 there will be the WikiChallenge African Schools that encourages schools in eight countries in Africa to compete by writing Wikipedia articles about their city, town, village, suburb or local landmark using the WikiFundi software. The competition is a fun introduction to writing Wikipedia articles and will add information about Africa to the global online encyclopedia. Wikipacks, that includes WikiFundi and training resources and information on Wikipedia and Creative Commons, will also be distributed to the Wikimedia volunteer groups in early 2017.

Get involved!

Wiki Loves Women

Wiki Loves Africa

WikiAfrica Movement links

Posted 19 October 2016