Aussies join global effort to get more religious women on Wikipedia

Aussie women are playing a major part in a global effort to increase the number of biographical entries about religious women on Wikipedia.

Currently, less than 20 per cent of Wikipedia’s biographical entries are about women and less than 10 per cent of its editors are women.

“One of the difficulties in creating Wikipedia articles for women is that there are fewer sources of information.” – Kerrie Burn

To response, The University of Divinity in Melbourne is taking part in a global project called ‘1000 Women in Religion’, coordinated by the Women’s Caucus of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. The aim is to add 1000 biographies of “religious, spiritual and wisdom women” to Wikipedia.

The Aussie contribution – titled ‘Australian Women in Religion Project‘ – is being coordinated by Kerrie Burn, librarian at the University of Divinity’s Mannix Library. The aim is to create and edit 100 biographies about Australian women in religion, by the end of 2021. So far, the small team of around four regular contributors have created 54 entries, and are averaging around one entry per week.

Among the 54 new entries are Brooke Prentis, Indigenous Christian leader and CEO of Common Grace; Cecilia Dowling, a devout Christian and Temperance activist at the turn of the 20th Century; Gertrude Amy Roseby a Congregationalist lay leader and school owner; Mary Maria Andrews, a missionary and leading figure in Sydney Anglican diocese; and Tracey Rowland, a Catholic theologian who was appointed to Pope Francis’ International Theological Commission.

The efforts of Burn’s Australian group have also been boosted by other interested women who joined an ‘edit-a-thon’ event in March this year. Another online edit-a-thon, held over Zoom, is scheduled for Wednesday, June 9, 2021 from 9am–11am. This is designed to get people started, so they can continue adding biographies in their own time.

“There’s not really that many Wikipedia editors out there, so it’s often something that’s new to them. The more editors we have, obviously, the more new articles that we can get created,” Burn tells Eternity.

“It’s quite a learning process and you have to really kind of keep your hand in. Otherwise it feels like you have to relearn things every time you come back to it … So it’s good to be able to learn from people who are a bit further along the track or a bit more experienced in editing.”

Burn has collated a list of around 500 Australian women in religion to draw upon, or biography creators can work on their own suggestions of women in religion.

Aside from the fact the entries can be time-consuming, Burn notes another issue facing those involved in the project.

“One of the difficulties in creating Wikipedia articles for women is that there are fewer sources of information for women,” she explains.

And so, alongside the 1000 Women in Religion Project, a series of Women in Religion reference books is being published by Atla Open Press (formerly American Theological Library Association).

“The first volume in the series was about activists in religion and the next volume, which will be published soon, is about academics in the field of religion,” says Burn.

“I will be the editor for the third volume, which is about women that have been associated with the Parliament of the World’s Religions. There will be two chapters about Australian women in this volume.”

She adds: “By researching and writing the chapters included in these volumes, the project is also creating reliable sources that can then be used to create Wikipedia articles.”

“This is definitely a long-term project, made easier by the more people that are interested in contributing.” – Kerrie Burn

While the task sounds daunting, Burn is reassured by the commitment that Australian women have shown to the project. She is confident the her team will reach their goal of creating 100 biographies of Aussie women in religion by the end of the year.

“The Australian group has been very organised and we are being used as a model for other regional groups … The fact that one of the next volumes in the Women in Religion series will be focussed on Australian women in religion is, I guess, also an indication of the progress that we have made to the overall project.”

In saying that, Burn adds, “This is definitely a long-term project, made easier by the more people that are interested in contributing.”

After the first 100 biographies are completed, Burn plans to continue writing biographies for other women in her list of 500 Australian women in religion.

“I just see it as an ongoing project that I might do into retirement,” she says.

“Many religious women have made extremely significant contributions to Australian life and culture, especially in areas such as education, social welfare, health care, activism, and scholarship. Yet many of these contributions are largely unrecognised.

“By raising up these women we are helping to recognise their important work. As well as addressing this knowledge gap, in the process we are also addressing the gender imbalance on platforms like Wikipedia.”