Taking Back the Tech: Using Wikipedia to Counter Violence Against Women
This article originally appeared in Rising Voices, December 13, 2013.
On Saturday and Sunday, December 7th and 8th 2013, Breakthrough and Hacks/Hackers New Delhi hosted the first Hack4Change in India. The event included a Wikipedia edit-a-thon for creating and expanding articles focusing on violence against women as well as an opportunity to collaborate on digital media projects using data sets related to women’s rights in India.
The event called on journalists, developers, researchers, storytellers, activists and other members of civil society to join together. Hack4Change also encouraged “remote participation as a mark of solidarity and an effort to expand the movement.”
Multiple errors in Wikipedia articles about incidences of sexual violence in India triggered the event. In some cases, articles do not articulate the politics of writing about sexual violence, or do not use vocabulary that represents rape survivors without victimizing them.
Noopur Raval, a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi is actively involved in supporting free knowledge and women’s participation in technology in the Indian context. The idea was conceived with Satabdi Das, a fellow supporter and active member of Calcutta-based support group Womoz and Women in Free Software (WFS – India).
Raval believes we are,
Living in a world where all activism and the pace of legal and political changes are being directly influenced by information. At such a juncture, it is crucial not only to populate resources like Wikipedia with more information but also diverse information.”
Raval also says that there is a lack of information available; as a researcher, she is consistently unable to find information online around women, domestic issues, cultural traditions, and so on, from developing countries.
She also noted that when it comes to online content creation, local misconception can be a problem. While she was working on the WIkipedia article about the Guwahati Molestation Case in 2012, she felt that well-meaning editors saw this article as the publication of a shameful incident and a misrepresentation of the Indian people. She says,
To write responsibly and acknowledge women’s expression — is not a universally obvious and accepted notion and runs into obstacles given the stakes of people involved in women’s projects.
Raval also believes that there are other examples in which Wikipedia’s rules need to be negotiated and discussed when writing about these types of incidents. For example, in the case of Asaram Bapu, in which there was alleged sexual harassment leading to discussion around whether to use the word “rape” or not as well as whether or not to mention explicit details.
While the Wikipedia edit-a-thon is just part of a bigger event, Raval would like to see 2 or 3 comprehensive articles written on topics pertaining to gender issues.
Shobha SV works for Breakthrough, an organization that uses media, pop culture and technology alongside community mobilization to raise awareness and inspire action. She says:
The Internet is just like any other public space. Women face the same discrimination and harassment that they end up facing on the street. Virtual harassment will only lead to marginalising of women and we need to reclaim the space. Reclamation of virtual space can only happen if more women use the internet and by populating all mediums with more women’s voices.
Shobha believes that the beginning of democratization of data in India with new and emerging digital tools allows for the opportunity to tell stories in a creative way.
Approaching almost one-year since the Delhi rape case, Raval says:
Generally, the feeling is that people have woken up to the fact that rapes don’t only happen in slums or dimly lit areas, they can happen anywhere. I also read that the numbers on rape only reflect reported rapes. But, it’s heartening to see everyone at least talk about an issue that is brushed away otherwise.