We founded the Whose Knowledge? global campaign in March 2016, bringing together our collective experience in organising and challenging systemic biases online and offline. We’re accustomed to working both in open technology spaces like Wikipedia, and in feminist activist environments on the ground, but it is a rare pleasure to fully combine these two. We find it is in the spaces across and between those two worlds that we’re increasingly looking to live, campaign and connect. This was one of the joys of being part of the Feminist Internet eXchange (FIX) Hub, a community space created by the Association of Progressive Communications – Women’s Rights Programme and its partners, for four days in September at The Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) Forum in Bahia, Brazil.
Taking back knowledge on the internet
Whose Knowledge? works with individuals, communities, organisations and movements worldwide to create, collect and curate knowledge from and with marginalised communities, particularly women, people of colour, LGBTQI communities, indigenous peoples and others from the global South. Essentially, Whose Knowledge? is a radical re-imagining and reconstruction of the internet, so that the internet can truly be from and for us all.
In September 2016, just six months after we went public with the idea for the campaign, we were honoured and excited to be invited by our partners APC and AWID to launch the first phase of our campaign at the AWID Forum. Our first phase involves an open source, community-driven mapping of what kinds of knowledge from and by traditionally marginalised communities is still missing from the internet or needs to be made more accessible online. We’re interested in learning from and with communities around the world about where various forms of currently marginalized knowledge lives and how these forms of knowledge can become a more fully representative part of the world’s shared repositories online. And so we came to AWID with our compañeras, the Wikimujeres, to combine the experience and expertise of being Wikimedians and Wikipedians with our efforts to make Wikipedia and other places on the internet more diverse and plural.
As we said to the AWID community before we arrived at the Forum, only 20% of the world (primarily white male editors from North America and Europe) edits 80% of Wikipedia currently. Only 1 in 10 of the editors is estimated to identify as female. Studies by Mark Graham et al at the Oxford Internet Institute have found that 84% of Wikipedia articles focus on Europe and North America. Most articles written about the global South are still written by those in the global North, so that even where content is present, skewed representations remain. In other words, a minority of the world is writing about the majority of the world. And this is still true for most knowledge production on the broader internet today.
In contrast, the AWID Forum is the world’s largest gathering of feminists and women’s human rights organizations outside of the United Nations. It takes place every four years, and works hard to ensure diversity and plurality: nearly 2000 people from over 40 countries have participated in the past few Forums. This year, it was particularly powerful that the Forum began with a pre-event on Black Feminisms, and a pre-event on the Feminist Internet. For us, those worlds are inextricably linked. Because how we and our knowledge systems are seen, heard, and amplified – or invisibilised – in the world, is a critical part of the struggle for equality and justice.
Mapping feminist content in the Feminist Internet eXchange
Attribution: By FloNight – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51304942
Surrounded by the stories of warrior women from the Luchadoras TV project, invigorated from celebrating 10 years of APC’s Take Back the Tech campaign, and with the bubble of music and interviews streaming from the Radio Concha booth nearby, we set up two Whose Knowledge? maps in the FIX hub. The first map was the internet we use and construct today: where do feminists at the Forum go for knowledge and information now? We asked people to mark with stickers if they used spaces like Twitter, blogs, or the AWID website, and to add many more spaces in their own languages and from their own communities. This feminist map of the internet grew quickly with lots of colourful stickers and additional online spaces like Open Democracy and Alternet.
Our second map asked for the gaps and opportunities that exist around feminist and other marginalised knowledge in the world today. What do you look for online and do not find? What kind of knowledge is importantly still missing from the internet? Whose knowledge is it, and where does it live offline? We heard about organizational knowledge that is yet to be digitized, everything from local data sets to information on safe abortions in local languages, and we also heard about oral histories and testimonies living in someone’s video collection and not yet easily accessible online. One quirky and wonderfully specific request was for “English-speaking beauty salons in Europe that do threading of eyebrows!” Our feminisms remain fabulously multifaceted, and we were reminded of this whenever we mapped with a new group.
The mapping process has only just begun, and it is one of those efforts that will never truly end, because the production of knowledge never ends. Next, we’ll be following up with AWID participants via a survey, so that knowledge can still be collected from those who didn’t have a chance to add to the physical maps in the FIX hub. And then, we look forward to organizing similar mapping processes with other communities around the world – we’d be delighted to hear from you if you’d like to partner with us and map your knowledge!
Creating feminist content: writing women into Wikipedia
Jurema Werneck said in her plenary speech that “radical hospitality” is the “process of me receiving what I am not and you receiving what you are not”, and we felt this hospitality at AWID. Among the many pieces of ourselves that we brought to be received was a commitment to addressing the gender gap in Wikipedia. As Sydney Poore, a long-time Wikipedian, said in her panel session with Urgent Action fund and others working in the intersection of global feminisms and the open knowledge/culture movement, “How can Wikipedia be seen as ‘neutral’ when only 10% of its editors are female?”
Attribution: By Seeeko – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51651907
So while in Brazil we worked to create and improve content on feminist activists on different language Wikipedias, and to add multimedia content about notable feminists at the Forum. For instance, the article on Homa Hoodfar – the Iranian-Canadian academic who has been detained in Iran since early June – was translated from English into Arabic, Farsi and Spanish, during the course of the Forum, by Wikipedians around the world. María Sefidari (Vice-Chair of the Wikimedia Foundation board), Carmen Alcazár (Wikimedia Mexico) and Sydney Poore (WikiWomen User Group) led a Wikipedia editing session. In this, we set up new accounts for those attending, began to put the APC-led Feminist Principles of the Internet onto Wikisource, and created an English Wikipedia article on Isatou Touray – the first woman to run for the Presidency of the Gambia. Neither Homa nor Isatou could be at the AWID Forum as they’d planned, but we were thinking of them.
Like Wikipedia, the internet as a whole, is not neutral. And until we change the balance of whose knowledge is represented on the internet, it will not be as rich and as diverse as the worlds we live in. As we look back at our time at the Forum, we feel grateful and joyful that we began this work as we did: with the diversity and depth of incredible women’s rights activists from around the world, generously and graciously sharing their knowledge, and their excitement at collaborating with us on the Whose Knowledge? campaign. Through our work, we hope to honour your activism, and help the rest of the world see you and your communities as fully and as deeply as possible.
Attribution: By Seeeko – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51651904