Research:Mapping Content on Gender and Sexuality in Indian Languages

Duration:  2021-July – 2022-August
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This page documents a completed research project.
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This research study explores content production processes on gender and sexuality in Indian languages, its digital documentation and factors that affect its availability and use on open access platforms. The research was undertaken by Yashashwini (CIS-A2K), with editorial inputs by Puthiya Purayil Sneha, and Torsha Sarkar. This research was part of short-term studies undertaken at the CIS-A2K programme 2021-22.

IntroductionEdit

Mapping Content on Gender and Sexuality in Indian languages is a research project that studies the content production process on gender and sexuality in Indian languages and challenges it with its digital documentation. It examines the diverse nature of content creation on these topics, processes of its digitalisation and related challenges that contribute to the disparity in its availability and use on open knowledge platforms such as Wikimedia projects, and potential strategies to address the same.

Through conversations with individuals and institutions working on gender, sexuality and allied topics like feminism, with a focus on women, non-binary and LGBTQIA+ related content, the study explores various aspects of content creation across multiple Indian languages, its access and use. Based on analysing this data and drawing on ongoing work within the mainstream discourse on gender and sexuality, the report offers a set of observations on ways to address challenges related to the gender gap in the content creation process on open knowledge platforms.

Context and MethodsEdit

Collaborative knowledge production platforms such as Wikimedia projects have recognised the existence of a gender gap and bias across its projects, understood largely as disparities in participation by and content related to women and, by extension, individuals across diverse gender and sexual identities. As observed in global literature as well as by work done by Indian language communities (with a focus largely on women Wikimedians), the gap is a result of various infrastructural and socio-cultural factors, including limited access to devices and the internet; balancing professional, domestic and volunteer work; lack of technical capacity-building and communication skills; limited presence in leadership positions, and the need for safe and healthy working environments among others. Several efforts have been made globally and in Indian language communities to address these challenges.

The issue of the gender gap, or indeed the challenges identified, are not unique to Wikimedia projects alone but are reflective of gender disparities in the public sphere and across the internet more broadly. Key learning from previous work in this space has been the need to connect these conversations and efforts to bridge the gender gap with the wider public discourse related to content creation on gender and sexuality online and in Indian languages. This study aimed to map such content with perspectives drawn from diverse gender and sexual identities. Importantly, it sought to understand better some of the infrastructural and cultural factors that shape creating such content and making it publicly available in diverse languages.

This study was done across four Indian languages - Kannada, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu (while English remained inevitable), focusing on content under two sub-themes– a. Cultural History and b. Feminist Production/Publication. The respondents in the study included organisations and individuals working in the areas of gender, sexuality and allied areas like feminist interventions and publishing, with a focus on writers, translators, artists, and multi-format content creators and curators. The study adopted a qualitative approach and comprised 19 semi-structured interviews (including four focused group discussions with organisations). Owing to the pandemic, all interactions for this study were done through telephonic conversation, email and virtual conferencing. These interactions have helped us understand the process of content creation in these areas. These problems manifest as gendered disparities in engagement with online platforms and potential solutions to address the same.

Key Research AreasEdit

The three major thematic areas this research study focused on are as follows.

Nature of the Knowledge Produced
Content production on gender and sexuality in Indian languages spans several areas, including education, activism, advocacy and rights and justice, to name a few, given the location of much early writing in this space within the women’s rights and several other social movements in India. Important observations on the nature of this content by respondents include the emergence of a feminist critique across fields and disciplines, active interventions in the public discourse around gender and sexuality and the need for an intersectional approach to the process of content production. The growth of content in Indian languages and their increased availability on online platforms is also an important step towards addressing the predominance of Anglocentric and academic perspectives in these areas of research and work.

Digital Spaces, and movement of Content from Paper to Pixel
The cohort of the participants of this study has pointed out the evolution of the internet and digital tools from a luxury to a necessity but also acknowledged the widespread disparity in their access and use. However, the interesting outcome of this has been the transformation of traditional publishing methods and the emergence of cost-efficient space to produce content in various formats (like on social media) which fosters wider dissemination and engagement. However, increasing digital content production also comes with the need for advancements in digital literacy, resources and infrastructure. Digitalisation and open access to content on gender and sexuality in Indian languages is, therefore, a resource-intensive process, with related challenges such as copyright restrictions and technical limitations to access and use of Indian language content etc.

Indian Languages
The content creation process on gender and sexuality in Indian languages is complex given the country's diversity. Still, socio-cultural factors continue to determine the growth and use of languages, often resulting from asymmetries of power amongst diverse communities. This includes the marginalisation of certain forms of language use and content production processes that are not seen as within the ambit of dominant languages. Further, the lack of a gender-neutral vocabulary across many Indian languages and the significant challenges in the translation are important issues that emerged in this space. While the translation of content on gender and sexuality into Indian languages from English and other foreign languages is challenging due to the lack of a gender-neutral and conceptual vocabulary, as noted earlier; the lack of reverse translations and limitations within publishing and wider circulation of content are some of the factors that continue to affect work in this space.

LearningsEdit

The learnings from this study outline the many challenges in content production on gender and sexuality, especially in Indian languages and its availability in digital spaces. These include the need to recognise that gendered disparities result from asymmetries of power, thus calling for a more critical outlook and intersectional approach towards the processes of content production (and related work such as translation, digitisation and archiving). They also offer several strategies and best practices drawn from observations by the respondents to address some of these gaps in content creation and circulation to ensure sustainable knowledge production ecosystems.

These include the dire need to bridge technical and infrastructural gaps, facilitate visibility and engagement with content through collaborations with key institutions and individuals in this space, and capacity-building through developing pedagogy and tools. Further, there is a need to diversify the approach towards creating and sourcing content and creating safe working environments by developing redressal mechanisms for marginalised and vulnerable communities. As Wikimedia projects constitute a major part of the digital knowledge ecosystem and have been working towards more diversity and inclusion across their projects, a sustained approach to bridge these gaps may be adopted in the Indian context. This would contribute immensely to efforts to bridge the gender gap across Wikimedia projects and in the larger digital public sphere.