A blog post by Afifa Afrin, Community Director, Wikimedia Bangladesh
I still remember the morning I received the email mentioning “The Scholarship committee is excited to let you know that you have been successful with your application to the Wikimedia Diversity Conference 2017 in Stockholm”. It was so exciting news for me, I was so happy about this.
Back to July 2017, I and my husband were going through Wikimedia Meta and noticed about this conference. As I am working for reducing Gender Gap in Bangla Wiki projects, I felt very enthused to join this conference. I instantly sent an email to Sara Mortsell saying I am interested to join. She told me to keep an eye to Meta page of Wikimedia Diversity Conference. After that, in August 2017, when the registration was open I applied for scholarship. I also signed up as an ambassador to spread news about this conference. Then that magic email came, I received partial scholarship for the conference. Unfortunately that was not enough for my travel cost. First, I wanted to decline, because arranging travel cost was difficult at that moment. But when my husband heard about this, seeing my sad face, he said- you should talk to other board members from Bangla Wikimedia and also send email to organizing team describing your situation. I discussed about this with my fellow Wikimedians in Bengali Wikimedia, they suggested applying for TPS. In the mean time, Wikimedia Sweden solved my problem in collaboration with Wikimedia Norway. My travel scholarship was approved by Wikimedia Norway. Therefore, I did not have to apply for TPS, instead I applied for visa in embassy of Sweden in Bangladesh. Ten days later, I got my passport back with that magical sticker! It was confirmed that I am representing Bangla Wikimedia in Wikimedia Diversity conference 2017. My fellow wikipedians from Bangladesh were also very happy about this as this was our first time representation in such ConferenceMy flight was on 3 November very early in the morning. So, I had to come in Dhaka from my hometown Comilla one day before. When my flight take off from the run way I was still hoping to join for the first day of the conference. Unfortunately, my connecting flight from Istanbul to Stockholm was late. I took Flybusserna from Arlanda airport to central station. It was dark outside, so I missed the beautiful sights while riding the bus. When I checked into Hotel Sheraton it was around 20:00 local time. I freshen up in a hurry to go to Royal Armory museum. But my roommate (who was from India) came to room by this time and told me the program for the first day of conference had already ended. It turned out, I missed day 01 program. I just had light dinner with the snacks I brought from Bangladesh and went to a good night sleep.
On Day 02; I did not want to miss anything, after breakfast I got into conference hall at 9:00 am. Seated with previously known wikipedians, those I met in Wiki Conference India 2016. Meanwhile during the welcome time the participants were requested to form a base camp with different background. I stood up and was searching for a base camp. I saw a group of four people, walked straight and introduced myself like, ‘hi I am Afifa, I am from Bangladesh.’ one group member, Rebeca O Nil, said, ‘well that makes you interesting’. So I got hired there. Then everybody introduced themselves to me. It was a perfect group consisted of five people from five different countries. So Diversity was on the row!
Then opening speech started. On her opening speech, Katherine Maher, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation emphasized on ensuring diversity.
She talked about shared power. She reminded about the mission of wiki projects- ‘equality’ and mentioned we are far behind that. On her word, ‘Justice is difficult; we need to make sure we give people who need to be at the table a seat at the table.
Again she emphasized on deconstruction of dominant culture. The common culture in wiki projects is considering the edit count as a person’s contribution to the movement. She said, this is only a snapshot and a very incorrect view of people’s contributions. In her word, a person’s contribution should not be limited to edit count; rather it should be involving organizing, teaching, advocating, planning, etc. She did uphold the importance of voices from diverse group in the movement. In doing so she talked about cultivating identity, valuing the value of diverse group of people. She emphasized on listening to the marginalized, encourage others to listen to them. I was so amazed by her closing part. She said, knowledge is a tool of power. And free knowledge is a radical act.
After the speech of Katherine Maher, for our next activity we were instructed to look at our cue card no. 04. This was about choosing an object from the conference hall related to movement and speak with group mates about that. I chose my camera, which has been a part of my life since last year and I spoke about my work in commons.
Then we listened to inclusive policies and discussed in our base camps. We thought that,
- friendly attitudes
- pay attention to others
- mutual respect
etc are important to make friendly space.
Then Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight presented about the Gender Diversity Mapping Project. While I was listening to her, I realized the problems we face in Bangladesh to reduce gender Gap in wiki projects are universal problem. It gave me strength that, if we work together and try to solve these problems contextually then we will be able to overcome.
After these sessions we went for lunch. I particularly enjoyed it when I saw some boiled rice there. The lunch was truly great.
After lunch we were back to our base camps and talked about strategic direction of Wikimedia movement. We did lot of discussions, everybody shared about their successful projects and the future strategies. We discussed about the needs of respective communities or affiliates in order to implement the direction. I personally learnt a lot from this discussion such as getting a printed handbook on ‘how to edit in wiki projects’ might be helpful as it worked for some communities in India. The necessity of paid staffs was also discussed. In this mean time we also had fika and Day 02 was ended with some effective discussion.
After formal session of day 02, I had to meet with facilitators of skill sharing session for planning of my next Day session.
I was supposed to talk about the challenges faced by me as a community director in Bangla Wikimedia. Our discussion was so important for our plan of taking session for the next day. To be honest, I was pretty nervous about my session. Astrid, Marty, Kathy and Jorid were so helpful. The way they welcomed me, I got my confidence back. After this discussion I had very little time to freshen up and go for dinner. This dinner was awesome and I got to have some authentic Swedish food. Because of jet lag, it was very tough for me to keep myself awake; however I enjoyed the dinner very much.
Day 03 started with early morning walk to old city (Gamla stan), Stockholm. Actually I planned to go there after the afternoon session of day 02, however I had to cancel because of group discussion. It was a blessing as I got to see very calm city in early of the morning.
After coming back, I had a very fresh breakfast. I was so excited about skill sharing session. I went to conference hall early, painted my poster which focused on challenges regarding resource distribution. Meanwhile, the participants were gathered in conference hall and schedule programs of day 03 started.
Recap from day 02 were discussed first. Then we moved on some light group activity and listened to lightning talk. I got insights from various communities who worked for reducing Gender Gap. I specially remember the talk of Virginia Diez, form Wikimedia Spain, which was based on ‘feel empowered in order to take responsibility or actively participate in decision making processes. Though the context is different in Bangladesh, however the solution seems effective to me.
After lightning talk, I listened to presentation about hosting Inclusive Wikimedia event. It was touching and I felt bad for the person hosting the presentation. She suffered a lot of critique and anger, has history of being harassed and not addressed in the community. After her session another participant shared her history of harassment and it was also touching.
After these sessions a break of fika relieved me. The morning session was pretty sad, and I felt that I am actually lucky in this sense that my community always welcomed me. After fika, I along with facilitators of skill sharing session moved to a small room to discuss about ‘accessing resources to increase diversity’. The facilitators of this session were Astrid Carlsen, Jorid Martinsen, Marti Johnson, Katy Love and Afifa Afrin.
We started the session as planned, Jorid welcomed the participants.
Then Marti talked about the objective of the session and requested the participants to do some brainstorming about resources. Then we listed the resourced we need to ensure diversity in wiki projects.
Then I shared the challenges we face in Bengali Wikimedia as we have very limited resources. I talked about how we are facing difficulties to allocate resource to ensure the diversity in wiki projects. Such as, in Bangladesh we lack enough active editors, so we do arrange workshop to make people (mostly students) aware about Wikimedia movements. In doing so, sometimes we could not target female students or other groups such as indigenous people due to unavailability of resources. Mobility is an issue for Bangladeshi women and girls. They sometimes may not have access to computer and internet. Same goes for indigenous group. Though some of them are educated however there is lack of awareness about Wikimedia movements. In Bangladesh, in order to ensure diversity in wiki projects we must include the voices from all marginalized group. As we have limited resource, we are facing difficulties to prioritize on effective distribution.
After my discussion, Astrid from Wikimedia Norge discussed about though they have enough resources, they are also facing difficulties on ensuring diversity. Then the participants again were requested to think creatively about what we have to ensure diversity. Then discussion was pretty attractive as everyone was talking about the resources they have. We got very positive response from the participants. Next brainstorming was about the way forward, here participants also gave very positive response.
Katty thanked all the participants and we moved to lunch room. After lunch, we again went to conference room. The way forward session seemed informal to me but effective. I got to talk with a branch of people, exchange experiences.
To close, I must say, this conference was so much informative and helpful. It shaped my though about the challenges I face and the solution. It was fun and I learnt a lot. I was overwhelmed with the welcoming nature of the participants. I made friends and memories. I am truly grateful to Wikimedia severage for giving me the opportunity to participate in this conference and also very obliged to Wikimedia Norge for granting my travel arrangements. The learning and memories will remain as great asset to me.