#VisibleWikiWomen 2020: fighting invisibility during a global pandemic

15 June 2020

2020 is the third year of our #VisibleWikiWomen campaign. In the past three years, from March to May, the campaign has brought over 14,000 images of women to Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia’s multimedia repository. This year alone, in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, we and our partners – feminist organizations, Wikimedia communities, memory and cultural institutions – uploaded more than 3000 images to Commons.

As many of us were quarantined in our homes and forced to physically distance from each other, the digital aspect of #VisibleWikiWomen allowed the campaign to become a safe place for us, our communities and our partners. We continued to organize online, and to address the deep invisibilities of women on the internet.

While we shared this collective experience in many different and challenging ways across the world, it became evident that not all people fighting COVID-19 were receiving equal acknowledgement, appreciation, and visibility. Once again, women’s faces, stories and contributions from the frontlines, especially those of black, brown, indigenous, and trans women, were often missing from online content. This comes from deeply rooted structural systems of discrimination and privilege, whether patriarchy, racism, homophobia, classism or their intersections. That’s why this year’s campaign focused on highlighting health workers and care-givers, sanitation and transport workers, emergency and food services, farmers, activists, scientists, policy-makers, and more. We celebrated women in the critical infrastructures of care, and we continued to mark the many #womenofcolors who are disproportionately represented but rarely acknowledged in these infrastructures.

Vanessa Nakate portrait

Vanessa Nakate, image by Paul Wamala Ssegujja, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Looking back at this year’s campaign

We began our campaign in March by sharing what happened to Vanessa Nakate, a young Ugandan climate justice activist whose image was cropped from a group photo in which she appeared with other young activists, including Greta Thunberg, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. A press agency removed the only Black and African activist from this image, literally making Vanessa and her activism invisible.

Through Vanessa’s story, we reflected on how real and violent (online) invisibility is and has been, especially for #womenofcolors: black, brown, indigenous, trans and Global South women. We were also able to acknowledge and appreciate the work of our partner from the start, AfroCrowd and Wikimedian Sherry Antoine, who reached out to Vanessa and first brought a freely licensed image of Vanessa’s onto Wikimedia Commons. The AfroCrowd community have been actively working to bring Black culture and history, including women’s images, onto Wikipedia.

In addition to the amazing partners who have embraced the campaign year after year, we were honored to have new partners joining us in 2020, from around the world and many different backgrounds:

We are so proud and grateful for what our partners and communities have achieved this year, especially in the context of COVID-19. Together, we uploaded over 3000 images to Wikimedia Commons. These images are now illustrating over 2000 pages in more than 80 different Wikipedia languages and Wikidata.

As we celebrate this astonishing effort, we need to acknowledge how heavily we have been impacted by the pandemic. Apart from the personal and community responsibilities we all had to take on, festivals, lectures, exhibitions and other March activities to celebrate women didn’t take place this year. Wikipedia edit-a-thons and other Wikimedia gatherings were also cancelled. All these events and physical spaces usually created opportunities for our partners to meet, photograph and upload images of important and inspiring women to Commons and Wikipedia.

Screenshot of the VisibleWikiWomen online editathon.

Screenshot of the #VisibleWikiWomen online edit-a-thon.

Luckily, the very nature of the campaign – digital and online – allowed us not only to continue organizing online, but also to create new opportunities for folks to learn about Wikipedia and engage with the campaign. We organized an online edit-a-thon (or editatona): a multi-day and bilingual (English and Spanish) event in partnership with two of our partners, Take Back The Tech from APC and #SheTransformsTech from World Pulse.

More than 50 people registered, 20 people joined and 9 uploaded 35 new images to Wikimedia Commons during the editatona. The number of images uploaded are remarkable considering the majority of participants were “newbies”, which means they had never edited Wikipedia or uploaded images to Commons before. As we’ve also recorded the session, our partners and communities now have a new online and visual resource to help folks to navigate Commons and the wikiverse.

A significant new resource we created for this year’s campaign was the Guide for Cultural and Memory Institutions to make Women Visible on Wikipedia. This resource was especially developed for cultural and memory institutions or GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums). The guide provides step-by-step guidance on copyright and licensing issues, how to create an account on Wikimedia Commons and how to upload files – either as individual images, or as bulk uploads. We’re deeply grateful for how much the guide was shared by our GLAM partners and friends during this year’s campaign, and we can’t wait to see how it’s used next year!

Photo of Veronica Bekoe with Pamela Ofori-Boateng

Veronica Bekoe and Pamela Ofori-Boateng, image by Jwale2, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

To close out our campaign, we interviewed Pamela Ofori-Boateng, a Ghanaian journalist, Wikimedian, and member of Open Foundation West Africa for our podcast “Whose Voices?”. Pamela created the Veronica bucket page on Wikipedia to honor and celebrate Veronica Bekoe, a Ghanaian biological scientist who invented the Veronica Bucket – a sanitation device to mitigate the scarcity of running water for hand washing. These devices have been used in past health crises in Ghana and other African countries and recently have been widely used to avoid the spread of COVID-19 in the continent. As a fierce #VWW partner and friend, Pamela made sure Veronica was visible on her Wikipedia biography. She visited and photographed Veronica in her home in Accra in early June, when it was safe and acceptable to do so.

Hopes and dreams for 2021

We never stop dreaming about new possibilities for #VisibleWikiWomen. Our goal is to make the campaign more multilingual and multicultural next year, while we continue to focus on the visibility of black, brown, indigenous, trans and Global South women.

We are eager to establish new collaborations with GLAM institutions and test our new guide as we support them. We hope the guide will prove helpful to our partners, especially as they navigate physical distancing constraints and create new possibilities for their communities to experience art, culture, science and history online.

We’re also planning to launch a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) resource about licensing, consent, Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons policies and more. We have been collecting and answering these questions for the past three years, and are ready to bring them all together in another useful guide.

Last but not least, we will organize more online training sessions to support our friends and partners who aren’t familiar with the wikiverse, but want to join us in increasing women’s visibility online.

We’re ending this year’s campaign by holding you all – our friends old and new – very (virtually) close! We wish you and yours health, safety, and the joys and justice of visibility. Keep caring for each other as you do, keep making women visible on Wikipedia and the broader internet!

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