Kerr, who is the Principal Solicitor of the Feminist Legal Clinic in Sydney, joined forces with technologist and general polymath Spider Redgold to apply for a grant to found a women’s Wikipedia editing group. Supported by Create NSW through the NSW Writers Centre (now Writing NSW) in 2017, the Women Write Wiki (WWW) group was born.
By March 2021, the group was celebrating four years of editing, activism and friendship, during which they estimate they’ve now created over 300 new pages on Australian and New Zealand women. Their efforts form part of growing international movements, such as Women in Red and Art+Feminism, whose work to increase the visibility and representation of women on Wikimedia platforms has seen the number of pages about women grow to nearly 19 per cent as of March 2021.
This gender bias is perpetuated by the dominance of men on Wikipedia, which are estimated to make up as much as 90 per cent of editors, yet another reason WWW was formed. The group has produced some of Australia’s most prolific Wikipedians such as Ann Reynolds and Margaret Donald who walked through the doors of the library and have been stalwarts of the group and Australian editing community ever since.
If you were on the internet in April 2019, you may recognize computer scientist Katie Bouman, who went viral after her team captured the world’s first image of a black hole and her thrilled reaction was captured on camera.
That breakthrough prompted a Wikipedia volunteer to draft her biography for the digital encyclopedia. But the same day, it was nearly pulled by someone else who thought she wasn’t notable enough to be included.
This incident points to a bigger problem: women feature in less than one in five biographies on Wikipedia. There are several reasons for this gap.
First, some background: Wikipedia pages are written and edited by a volunteer community that now numbers over 143,000 individuals, around 90% of whom are male. Anyone can write a draft article, and anyone can nominate an article for deletion. Editors then decide by consensus whether to keep the article, merge it with another one or delete it.
These decisions come down to guidelines set by Wikipedia editors in the early days, including a test of notability: Is there significant coverage of the topic in secondary sources? Are these sources reliable? Are they independent of the subject itself? By this criteria, enough editors rushed to defend Katie Bouman’s notability and ultimately saved her article from deletion. Many others, though, never see the light of day.
According to Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, a veteran volunteer who’s written over 5,000 articles since 2007, “information about men is much more readily available in large quantities than it is about women.” If a woman hasn’t been covered sufficiently in secondary sources, a Wikipedia editor may determine that she doesn’t meet the notability standard.
In our recent research, we argued strict masculinity norms can emerge when men vastly outnumber women. This is due to competition increasing and intensifying among men because there are fewer women to partner with.
This can intensify violence, bullying, and intimidating behaviours that, once entrenched in local culture, continue to manifest themselves long after sex ratios have normalised.
We tested this hypothesis using data the convict colonisation of Australia. In just under 100 years, between 1787 and 1868, Britain transported 132,308 convict men and only 24,960 convict women to Australia. Migrants were also mostly male. So, there were far more men than women in Australia until well into the 20th century.
We used historical census data and combined them with current data on violence, sexual and domestic assault, suicide and bullying in schools. From that, we were able to see the regions with significantly more men than women back in convict times still experience problems today. This is even when we account for the influence of the total number of convicts, geographic characteristics, and present-day characteristics of these regions, including education, religion, urbanisation and income.
Our research also shows assault and sexual assault are much higher today in parts of Australia that were more male in the colonial past. We also find much higher rates of bullying among boys in schools, as reported by parents or teachers.
There is every reason to think any place where males dominate can create these issues. Be it in parliaments, offices, schools, or sports teams. Recent allegations out of parliament house, petitions denouncing thousands of sexual assaults by private schools boys, and continued claims of sexual assaults by NRL players prove exactly the point.
Her caseload includes survivors of abuse who acted in self-defense or in defense of their children, as well as women forced or coerced to assist their abuser in committing a crime. Sometimes they are women diagnosed with postpartum depression.
White-Domain recently earned release for a woman sentenced to six years in prison for stealing items worth less than $300, arguing that the punishment was too severe when balanced against the harm of family separation.
Since getting funding last year the Women and Survivors Project has represented 30 clients in 15 clemency petitions, 14 administrative advocacy cases, four resentencing cases, one post-conviction case, and one appeal.So far, five women have been released. Collectively that has added up to about 30 years of incarceration saved, White-Domain said.
The Women and Survivors Project, believed to be a rare full-time practice dedicated these specific kinds of post-conviction cases, was built on the work of a small number of Chicago attorneys who three decades ago began working on such complicated cases pro bono, mentoring and training a younger generation along the way.
Their work, Byrne said, grew out of research on domestic violence and also from firsthand observations. Byrne watched how the criminal system failed to see self-defense from a female perspective, such as the effect ongoing battering has on a person’s state of mind and perception of danger.
In 2020, the Albert & Anne Mansfield Foundation awarded White-Domain a grant to continue at the Illinois Prison Project, the statewide advocacy organization where she currently works. The Women and Survivors Project remains small — she is the only full-time attorney — but the grant could provide leverage to secure more funding.
In the 1980s, government policy was routinely audited for its impact on women. But in the 1990s, feminist policy “machinery” was steadily dismantled.
Today’s Office for Women has a tiny staff and a low profile. It was not consulted on any of the major COVID-related policy shifts, like JobKeeper or changes to superannuation.
If our parliament is full of men who ignore, belittle and disrespect women, and women who enable these men, it is because we, the voters, have put them there. But we can also vote them out.
A women’s candidate survey, ready to roll out at the next federal election, is just one strategy from the women’s movement of the 1970s that might be worth reviving today. Women need to maintain their rage, but they need to turn it into political action, too.