"Wiki Gender" The first Arabic online lexicon for gender issues — By Sofian Philip Naceur on Qantara de

“Wiki Gender” is a collectively-run Internet lexicon. The activists behind it hope to create a digital and participatory knowledge platform that not only provides freely accessible information to the public, but above all serves to initiate discourse. By Sofian Philip Naceur

Is it possible for a single online platform to initiate discourse, generate knowledge and make it publically available, all the while promoting an exchange of experience? Yes, it is. At least this is the hope of the team behind the recently launched online lexicon Wiki Gender, which was presented to an interested public at the Goethe-Institut in Cairo last December during the official project presentation. The goals of the project are ambitious, yet due to the glaring lack of generally accessible information on gender-relevant issues in the Arabic language, are they by no means unrealistic.

“We want the wiki to include every single word on the topic of women and gender, such as those found in gender studies, definitions and documents written in Arabic. Basically we want to make them a freely accessible source so that people can read them, learn from them and increase their knowledge,” explains Habiba Mohamed Montasser, a member of the group. One of the most important goals, however, is that people use the platform to exchange experiences and initiate discourse, says the 26-year-old activist from Cairo, who has been working on the project together with a dozen other activists since late 2014.

Designing an open platform and filling it with content

The idea to design the platform as a wiki only came about a year ago. The project began as an informal exchange and discussion group that met at irregular intervals, says Montasser. “We originally wanted to bring together organisations dealing with gender issues, not only so that they would get to know each other better, but also to faciliate the exchange of information and experience among them.”

According to Montasser, the second step was to make these organisations better known to Egyptians. “We wanted to launch a website, but when the Arab Digital Expression Foundation (ADEF) joined the project, we had the idea of not only setting up a simple website, but making it an open platform.”

A wiki proved to be the best solution for this purpose, says Ahmad Gharbeia, technical consultant with the ADEF who has been active with the organisation since 2008. The ADEF is primarily focused on issues of information and communication technologies and organises summer camps for young people and other educational events.

Promotional material for Wiki Gender Cairo (source: Goethe-Institut Cairo)

“Wiki Gender” made in Egypt. Although they had been working on the project for quite some time, it was only in early 2016 that Habiba Mohamed Montasser and the other activists working on the project began filling the platform with content. Today, it contains the profiles of 40 organisations including HarassMap

This makes the organisation, which is based in Moqattam in the east of Cairo, the perfect partner for setting up a wiki on issues relating to the topic of women and gender. Since December 2015, staff with the ADEF have organised a number of workshops conveying the necessary technical expertise to set up and run such a wiki.

It was only in late 2016 that Montasser and her fellow activists began filling the completely designed platform with content. Today, it includes profiles of organisations such as HarassMap, which works to combat violence against women. The site already hosts a total of 40 organisations. “We also want to compile information about groups and initiatives that no longer exist because we do not want this information to be lost,” says Montasser. The site will not, however, be limited to the profiles of organisations or initiatives that often only operate in social networks.

Enabling discussions in the Arabic language

Another goal of the project is to continuously collect and make freely available information on topics related to gender issues. The hope of the Goethe-Institut is that the project will contribute to the promotion of discourse and education on gender issues in Egypt and other countries.

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The most prominent example of this is Wikipedia, which started over 15 years ago as a small online lexicon and quickly grew. “The underlying concept also implies that those participating are interested in the topic and would like to actively participate, while at the same time being able to accept criticism. It is a kind of collaborative experience for people who like to work on something together,” he explains.

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