Up&Ap: Masana Mulaudzi on working with contributors to close knowledge gaps at Wikimedia Foundation

Raised in post-apartheid South Africa, she’s always recognized the impact of politics in her life, and the wellbeing of those around her. In her own words, she’s “deeply passionate about living my politics”, always striving to treat everyone as worthy of dignity and care. Even though she’s been a social justice champion from a young age, she admits that it’s only much later in her life, through her introduction to feminism and collective action, that she consciously began to question (and interrogate) the gender norms (and expectations) placed on her and women in general, by the society.  

Though she evidently wears many huts (or juggles many balls), depending on how look you at it, she formally serves as the Senior Manager for Campaigns Programs at the Wikimedia Foundation, the publisher of Wikipedia, the largest encyclopedia in human history.  

As the world marks the Women’s History Month, we conducted an interview with Masana Mulaudzi (pictured)to share snippets of her life’s journey from growing up in a newly-independent and multi-racial South Africa, her career choices, and her current work in gender activism. Read on for more about her experiences, as well as the lessons she’s picked along the way… 

QUESTION: Who is Masana Mulaudzi? Please give us a background about yourself

MASANA MULAUDZI: I am an economic analyst and civil society actor with over 15 years’ experience, working on violence prevention, social cohesion, economic justice, feminist and social movements in Africa, South America and the Middle East. At the Wikimedia Foundation, I am the Senior Manager for Campaigns Programs where I lead a team that supports organizers around the world working to advance knowledge equity, with a targeted focus this year on gender equity and Africa. I am also currently a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equality at the London School of Economics, where I have produced the documentary and research series “Triple Jeopardy: Race, Class and Gender among the Black Middle Class in South Africa.” In my spare time, I volunteer as a Peer Reviewer for the seminal research collective, the Racial Equity Index and on several civil society boards. I am also part of a volunteer collective supporting budget justice in the City of Cape Town, South Africa. In 2021, I was recognized by aPolitical as one of the Top 100 Women in Gender Policy globally for my work on Feminist Movements and Leadership.

I have an MSc in Political Economy of Late Development from the London School of Economics and a B.Com. in Economics, Politics, Philosophy and a B.A. (Hons) in African Studies from the University of Cape Town. Finally, I am a Chevening Scholar from 2012–13 and an Anglo-American Open Scholarship recipient.

Q: What drives you as a person, and what keeps you motivated?

MM: I am deeply passionate about living my politics – trying to align my imperfect feminist, social justice practice with the saying that “the personal is political”: daily, this means that I strive to live as someone who treats everyone as worthy of dignity and care. I believe that individual and collective actions are impactful in helping the world move towards justice – as has been demonstrated by the impact of gender activists across the world, who have campaigned for suffrage, pay equity, access to healthcare, and the end of gender-based violence, to name a few. As an African woman, I am also driven by our collective struggle to see a more equitable world given the impact of colonialism and extractivism. I hope that my small contribution to social justice would add to the work of others, and bolster the efforts of the next generation to take this work forward. This includes for my daughter, who since arriving in the world, has reminded me daily that how we do our work (in the personal), is as important as what we do (in the political). And that all of us stand to learn from the next generation and appreciate multi-generational dialogue spaces for its impact on our knowledge of self and of others. 

Q: At what point in your life (or career journey) did you decide to focus on gender activism and advocacy? More broadly, what informed your decision to focus on the non-profit sector as a career path?

MM: The decision to focus on gender was not a conscious one. In fact, when recently reading Tsitsi Dangarembga’s recent book, Black and Female, it dawned on me that sometimes the construct of my gender and my race were limitations placed on me that served to limit what I understood as possible growing up in post-Apartheid South Africa. While I came into a consciousness of my blackness very early, through the reading of anti-colonial writers such as Biko and Achebe in my high school days; it was only in my twenties, through the introduction to feminism and collective action, that I began to question the gender norms placed on me: that the liberation afforded to women and non-binary people in our liberation struggles, was that of second-class citizens in the face of gendered discrimination and violence. It was in reading African feminists, like Stellah Nyanzi and Tiffany Mugo, and in finding my voice, that interrogating gendered norms became an imperative for my freedom. Giving birth to a multi-cultural, African female child then cemented this as a matter of a collective liberation in 2015. Since then, I have found spaces of growth and care in the work on gender across the world – including in Africa, the Middle East and South America, where my work has led me to act in service of feminists campaigning for civic, economic and social freedoms.

Q: During crucial moments and challenging situations in your life, whose counsel do you always seek and why?   

MM: My mother, although she might not identify as one, was the first feminist I ever knew. Growing up in rural, Apartheid South Africa, she changed the course of our lives by pulling her family and children out of poverty – something that took serious dedication and pushing against imposed limitations. As a medical doctor, with a PhD, and M.B.A. and a degree in chemistry – my mother has navigated the harshest environments of encountering the limitations of what people believe a black female to be. In our later years of mothering together – her of me, and me of my daughter – she has shown me what it is to grow and change, and listen to one’s daughters: even when it is painful, even when they challenge us. Though these days I am learning to find innate wisdom in myself and my lived reality, I often go to her for counsel and sit carefully with her words before deciding what path to take.

“I hope that my small contribution to social justice would add to the work of others, and bolster the efforts of the next generation to take this work forward… And that all of us stand to learn from the next generation and appreciate multi-generational dialogue spaces for its impact on our knowledge of self and of others.” – Masana Mulaudzi  

Q: As the Senior Manager for Campaigns Programs at Wikimedia Foundation, what does your job entail?

MM: As Senior Manager for Campaigns Programs at Wikimedia Foundation, my job entails supporting the efforts of contributors across our movement who are working to close knowledge gaps in priority areas – including in Gender and on Africa. As Wikipedia continues to be the largest encyclopedia in human history, and from which much artificial intelligence is built, it is important to amplify, bolster and support the work that our volunteers do – so that inequalities in the world do not continue to self-perpetuate in new technologies. I have a team that is made up of people who have devoted their volunteer time to editing Wikipedia and who are established Wikimedians in their own right. As someone who is new to the Wikimedia volunteer movement, I learn so much from them about what it means to work collectively to try to close a knowledge gap – and how to do this from the vantage point of a volunteer from a historically marginalized background or underrepresented community. Together, we work to support the organizers in our movement to run effective campaigns that target knowledge gaps and underrepresented knowledge, using tools, approaches and an ethic of care. 

Q: Looking back, how did your previous roles and experiences (especially those gained at Sonke Gender Justice) prepare you for your current position (and responsibilities that come with it), thereby helping you transition smoothly?

MM: As Programmes Director at Sonke Gender Justice, my role was to facilitate a culture of feminist practice and care in the organization, building alignment between our implementation, resourcing and partnerships. People were at the centre of making our work successful. I left Sonke with a profound appreciation for the work that women do in the field of gender-based violence, often when they are (statistically) not the primary perpetrators of violence. This experience foregrounded, for me, the importance of making practical a commitment to care and mutual accountability in the work of advancing gender equity – oftentimes requiring males to do the deep work of allieship and healing to let go of toxic norms that perpetuate discrimination and exclusion of women and non-binary people.

In the Wikimedia movement, where the majority of our contributors are male – this deep allieship and collective healing is an important lever to make the work of advancing gender equality a mutually beneficial effort. At the same time, I am deeply committed to supporting the resilience and sustainability for our contributors within and outside of the gender-binaries, and I believe that supporting women and non-binary contributors to find alignment and shared priorities is one, first step to support these efforts. 

Q: The Wikimedia Foundation is launching a new campaign, “Wikipedia Needs More Women“. Tell us more about this project.

MM: As one of the world’s largest knowledge resources, it’s critical for Wikipedia to represent the full, rich diversity of all humanity. Today, there is not an equitable amount of information about or by women on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. The “Wikipedia Needs More Women” campaign is a call to everyone to help close knowledge gaps on Wikipedia and beyond.

The Wikimedia Foundation has made a commitment to address knowledge equity across the world. This is not the first time the Wikimedia Foundation has worked on such projects. Over the years, there have been numerous initiatives that have been aimed at addressing the gender gap on Wikipedia.

Q: How will “Wikipedia Needs More Women” campaign ensure that voices of (girls and) women from marginalized populations and regions are amplified and heard in global matters and decision-making?

MM: For starters, it’s important for us to let women know that we want them in our movement and we want to support them by inviting them into spaces where they can learn how to edit Wikipedia and contribute to making it more representative of the sum of all human knowledge. Our organizers working on gender are a diverse group of people: women, men and non-binary people, who have devoted their time to creating spaces where newcomers can improve articles by adding citations or more detail. Organizers are especially skilled to support the learning of our new editors, and the culture of collaboration contributes to a sense of digital community for the greater good.

Q: As part of the “Wikipedia Needs More Women” campaign, which partners do you plan to bring on board? What are the overall targets of the campaign?

MM: Our communities work with many partners, like galleries, archives, museums and libraries, at a national or regional level to collectively close the gender gap on Wikipedia. This year, one such exciting partnership will focus on Women’s Health and includes a partnership between Wikimedia Indonesia and UNFPA.

Q: As the world marks Women’s History Month, which other projects does Wikipedia have to ensure that it “represents the full, rich diversity of all humanity”?

MM: Several campaigns and initiatives that are led by our volunteers span across all Wikipedias, for example:

  • An umbrella of women and non-binary contributors working together under the banner “WikiWomen,” actively promoting gender equity on Wikimedia projects through global events like WikiWomen Summit and WikiWomen Camp
  • CelebrateWomen, a volunteer-led initiative that occurs every March for Women’s History Month to host gender-equity focused events around the world
  • Art + Feminism, an activist community dedicated to closing knowledge gaps related to gender, feminism, and the arts
  • Women in Red: A project and community whose objective is to increase the representation of women on Wikipedia
  • VisibleWomen, an annual campaign for open-licensed images of marginalized women on Wikimedia Commons
  • SheSaid, a campaign to celebrate and recognize women by enhancing their representation and visibility on Wikiquote

Q: What are your final comments as relates to this year’s Women’s History Month

MM: By providing coordination and learning together, the Wikimedia Foundation hopes to make the efforts of volunteers working on gender easier. We also hope to identify how the Foundation can adapt and iterate our support for this important work. While we recognize that there is still so much work to do, we hope that these targeted interventions represent the stepping stones to longer term impact in the gender gap space.


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