As a Wikimedia affiliate, we have little to no influence on Wikipedia and the other projects, so it is hard for us to improve the conditions for marginalized groups and topics there. We can recruit new and diverse people, train them, give them a great start and we try to do that, don’t get me wrong, but if they are getting burned on the projects afterwards – because their contributions are questioned or because they are put off by the way discussions are led – there is little we can do. So I decided to put a focus on the things we actually can influence but haven’t really done systematically across the movement: Making our organisations welcoming and safe spaces and creating the culture “offline” that we would love to see online.
We started to use inclusive language in all of our official communication and documents – in emails, newsletters, but also in our bylaws, governance codex and internal rules of procedure. It’s hard to fully grasp the significance of it in English, but German is a highly gendered language and the wish to have more inclusive language on Wikipedia is a recurring issue. Wikimedia Austria decided to use language that includes all genders, including non-binary, because this is the reality in our community and society and we want to reflect that. So instead of “Wikipedianer” we say “Wikipedianer*innen”, the * indicates that “Wikipedian” can refer to various gender identities.
Inclusive language is a controversial topic in our communities, and we also have people in our organisation who are sceptical. Introducing these changes took time, many conversations and good will on all sides. For us, this change only became possible once the board itself was more diverse, and more and different views and voices could be represented in the discussions. You might also lose one or two people on the way, who do not bring this good will and oppose change in general. Sometimes you need to accept such losses in order to make room for new people.
I would love to see inclusive language that goes beyond binary gender definitions as a standard in the Wikiverse as well as in all official communication of the WMF and affiliates. I also think there should be incentives and peer networks to systematically make the governance structures more equitable across the movement.
This is one aspect that we can do in an organisation – there are many more ways to establish equity in your local context, among your workforce and volunteer committees, etc. We all should work towards that. Every context comes with its own challenges and requirements, but the activities regarding governance could serve as an inspiration.
You want to know more?
- Bylaws of Wikimedia Austria
- Good Governance Codex
- Internal Rules of Procedure
- Wikipedia article “Gender neutrality in languages with grammatical gender
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