May Mohamed Hisham Hashem
Photo by Ruby Mizrahi/Wikimedia Foundation, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Today, Hachem can be found at many Wikipedia editing events across the Middle East raising awareness about gender diversity on Wikipedia. She’s established successful partnerships between the Wikipedia community and international organizations, including UN Women.

On International Youth Day in 2016, Hachem helped organize the United Nations Women Edit-a-thon. The editing workshop took place in different locations around the world, including the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City and American University in Cairo. Hachem also led events during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence campaign to promote the importance of writing about women.

Since then, Hachem has led six similar Her Story events resulting in nearly 2,000 new biographies of women on Wikipedia. The most recent of these was held in Cairo as part of UN Women’s 16 days of activism against gender violence, with more than 450 in attendance. In addition to leading four events for the WikiGap initiative in Cairo, Amman and Beirut this year alone.

Hachem’s own story with Wikipedia started during an English course as a university student. The professor encouraged Hachem and her classmates to translate articles from the English Wikipedia to the Arabic Wikipedia.

Hachem was surprised to discover there was no Arabic Wikipedia article about Princess Alice of Battenberg, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and mother-in-law of Elizabeth II, the current queen of the United Kingdom.

So Hachem created and wrote the article herself. She wrote about Queen Victoria next. Hachem quickly became hooked on writing about women. “I felt that women should be remembered in history,” she says. “I will never be quite as proud of something as my writing about women.”

That was in 2013. Since then, Hachem has created over 450 articles and made over 10,000 edits on Wikipedia. Much of her work documents the lives of women. She devotes much of her time to encouraging others to join her in the effort.

Hachem felt welcomed by the community. When she nominated one of her articles to be considered for featured status, May started to make friends from different countries and cultures in the Arab world via the comments section.

Hachem also signed up as a Campus Ambassador in Ain Shams University in Cairo to help other students edit Wikipedia. “The idea of guiding someone or providing someone with knowledge is brilliant,” she said. “Knowledge should be free and everyone has the right to get the knowledge they need.”

Leading the way for WikiWomen

As a Campus Ambassador, she worked with a group of 100 students in the Turkish and English departments to participate in the WikiWomen writing competition on the Arabic Wikipedia. Hachem led the competition in 2014, which helped the students achieve the highest contributions in the Arab World education program since its inception.

The student group took on a massive translating effort. It was more successful than they realized at the time, Hachem says: “When we worked on the WikiWomen contest, the Turkish department students translated all the articles about women on the Turkish Wikipedia. So when we ran the contest again, we couldn’t find any articles left.”

Hachem then helped bring the program to Alexandria University and Al Azhar University, both located in Egypt.

She looks at digital knowledge platforms like Wikipedia as tools that can help change conversation about gender in the Middle East.

Hachem is looking forward to continuing her contributions to Wikipedia, even though she has less time after graduating from university. “I think it’s kind of an addiction … really, I can’t define it. I’ve thought about that a lot—what makes me keep doing this?”

But she had answered that question earlier in the interview: “It is my passion.”

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Photo credits