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Are women-only meetings allowed?

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

Are women-only meetings allowed under this Code of Conduct? There was recently a meeting at a Wikimedia Foundation-sanctioned event that was billed as women-only - or more specifically, open only to anyone who is not "cis male". (I'm not naming it here because I have no interest in repercussions for the people who organized it.)

I don't know if this is the first overtly exclusionary event in Wikimedia history. There have been certainly been "WikiWomen's Lunch" meetings at Wikimania and that sort of thing, but the phrasing this time seemed a little more explicit that certain groups are not welcome.

The Code of Conduct lists the following under "Unacceptable behavior":

Discrimination, particularly against marginalized and otherwise underrepresented groups. Targeted outreach to such groups is allowed and encouraged.

The exception for "targeted outreach" is clearly meant to allow for programs like Outreachy. But this recent meeting was not an outreach event, just a way for a subset of participants to get together and talk. And since I think everyone would agree that women are an underrepresented group, it seems to follow that such a meeting, while not particularly unacceptable, is still unacceptable. At least, that's my interpretation.

Again, I have no desire to see anyone involved be penalized; I just want it to be clear what the rules are going forward.

Bluerasberry (talkcontribs)

Hi - yes - as far as I found by looking into their event pages and documentation, there’s no evidence of true exclusion of any gender, and it’s not in any requirements for their individual events, it’s likely just encouraged to be mostly all women. Some particularly have stated "People of all gender identities and expressions are welcome, particularly trans and cisgender women." As far as I've found, neither this Code of Conduct nor the 2006-2017 non-discrimination policy were ever cited to counter a productive project like it.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

Thanks for your replies. Leaving aside the specifics of any one event, if a meeting truly did exclude men or "cis men", would that be forbidden?


I think the current language is a little unclear, but I think this group of events shows the success of a woman-oriented event, without a necessity to truly push any people away. I also don't know of any Wikimedians who would want to join while violating the spirit of a woman-only event, especially as their editing subject relates to feminism. I might also note that women can be included in the definition of "marginalized and otherwise underrepresented groups", but I don't think 'cis men' qualifies as one of those groups.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

I don't think that really answered the question, but anyway, I'm also looking forward to hearing what other people have to say. (talkcontribs)

Everyone can define a minority or marginalised group that includes any specific person, and plead special circumstances. There is no black and white, just shades of grey. There will be wikilawyering.


Well to answer your question more directly, this Code of Conduct doesn't expressly forbid it, nor does any other I've found. If there were a specific complaint raised, which I still doubt, we would have to further analyze this.

Adamw (talkcontribs)

@Yaron Koren there's a long history of discussion around this question, you might start by looking at parallels such as [black-only] spaces to see another perspective: for some types of organizing, this is actually more inclusive than inviting "everybody".

To make a less analogous comparison in case it might help clarify, consider programming events for young people. If these weren't explicitly targeted towards young people, then you would get the usual crowd of moderately- to highly-experienced adults attending, who feel comfortable taking up a lot of air time, and relatively few young people. It's not "overtly exclusionary" to specifically invite young people, it's part of building a diverse movement. Let me know if that helps?

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

@Adamw - my question isn't whether women-only meetings are a good idea, it's whether they're allowed. It seems pretty clear to me that the answer is "no", but I look forward to hearing other people's thoughts.

Adamw (talkcontribs)

My response was addressing the judgments like "overtly exclusionary event", and the assumption that a targeted event is a type of discrimination. My point is, this is a well-trodden discussion and the consensus as I understand it is that targeted approaches can help build a diverse community. This very thread is an excellent example of why this is the case--how many discussions about discrimination have been hijacked by allegations of so-called reverse racism, which is not one of the problems needing to be solved right now.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

I don't understand - are you saying that an event that excludes men is not discriminatory?

Mooeypoo (talkcontribs)

"Discrimination, particularly against marginalized and otherwise underrepresented groups. Targeted outreach to such groups is allowed and encouraged."

Men are not a marginalized group, and "targeted outreach" seems to encompass having a targeted event that is aimed (and targeting) marginalized groups, like women and non-binary in tech.

Most events such as these do allow "all genders" but have the caveat that requires all people that are of groups that are not underrepresented (such as cis men in tech, or such as cis white women in a meetup that aims to represent latinx/etc women and non binary groups) to be respectful of the space and the opportunity that is given to the underrepresented groups to be represented.

So yes. It is allowed, and seems to be encouraged, as an outreach device.

Kaldari (talkcontribs)

I've honestly never heard of any strictly "women-only" events related to Wikimedia. I've been to several events for women and non-binary folks and have never witnessed anyone turned away from such an event regardless of their gender presentation. If someone was actually turned away, I imagine it would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

@Mooeypoo - well, I think we can all agree that the "Discrimination" entry could have been worded better - as it, it requires some guesswork as to meaning.

Yes, men are not marginalized or underrepresented. And any event that discriminates against one group is, by definition, targeted at whoever's left. So I'll grant you that this event was "targeted" as well. Is it "outreach", though? I think the word "outreach" implies that the people being invited are not members of the Wikimedia technical community already - and for this event, they were. So it doesn't seem like "targeted outreach" to me.

If you're right, though, and any technical event run by the WMF that excludes men is by definition "targeted outreach", then we could simplify and clarify that line of the CoC considerably. It could be instead be written as "Discrimination against marginalized and otherwise underrepresented groups [is not allowed]. Discrimination against any other group is allowed and encouraged." Would you agree that that's an accurate restatement of what you think the CoC says?

Mooeypoo (talkcontribs)

This isn't the first time this subject has been raised; in fact, I'm fairly sure that a stroll through the CoC archives will show this discussion in several flavors several times, answered by multiple people, including actual lawyers and other community members.

It seems most readers don't consider it as "guesswork" as you make it seem; there are equivalent uses of these type of concepts in multiple legal codes in multiple countries, as well, defining what is, and isn't "marginalized" and "underrepresented" minority. Some examples of this also happened fairly recently in American politics, and around the world, trying to define whether discrimination against an ideological group is considered legal discrimination. It does not.

I'm not sure what else you're asking here, though. It's fairly clear that these type of events are supported by the Code of Conduct, and pretty clearly labeled as outreach events, for the purpose of increasing both diversity in the movement as well as opportunities to make sure these underrepresented groups have an opportunity to safely be included.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

@Mooeypoo - I don't see what lawyers have to do with this. The CoC is not a legal document; it's a set of guidelines that doesn't refer in any way to any actual laws. There's no precedent to be consulted, etc.

Again, I'm not arguing that men are marginalized or underrepresented. They're not, which means, as I noted in the beginning, that the CoC considers discriminating against them unacceptable, although not particularly unacceptable - just regularly unacceptable.

The meeting I originally talked about was not labeled as an outreach event.

Mooeypoo (talkcontribs)

The reason I mentioned "lawyers" and "laws" is to (once again) show that the concepts brought up in this principle are not new, or invented here, or unfamiliar in the general social world-wide perspective, including the definitions of 'marginalized' and 'underrepresented'. But anyways, that was an aside.

What is it that you're actually asking here, though? Are you disappointed you felt you couldn't participate in these meetings? Are you saying they shouldn't happen at all? Are you saying that we should rephrase them? I'm trying to understand what the objection actually is?

I'm not sure I understand what you're raising as an actual issue, considering several people (now and previously, multiple times already) have answered the original question at the title of this topic, and explained it.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

Thanks for asking. I'm generally against discrimination in the context of software development, and I find the idea of a Wikimedia event which certain people are not allowed to attend, simply because of their demographic attributes, repulsive. Thankfully, it seems like the Code of Conduct agrees with me - other than specific outreach programs like Outreachy, such a thing is considered "unacceptable".

Mooeypoo (talkcontribs)

I'm a little confused here. The Code of Conduct clearly allows for events that are targeting minorities and underrepresented groups, recognizing that such events are meant for outreach. The idea that this means "only outreachy" is an outreach program is your interpretation, and judging from the responses to this thread (and multiple other previous conversations) this interpretation is not shared by others.

You've received answers here that the Code of Conduct allows for these meetings, that they have a specific goal for inclusion that is missing specifically by these underrepresented groups, and that the definition of "underrepresented minorities" exists in the technical universe outside of Wikimedia's Code of Conduct.

I am not quite sure why you suggest that it seems like the Code of Conduct agrees with you, given the above.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

I'm surprised that you think any part of this phrasing in the Code of Conduct is "clear". :) I didn't say that only Outreachy is an outreach program, although I would bet that if Outreachy didn't exist, that sentence wouldn't have been added. I'm still not sure what you think counts as "outreach". Is it your view that any women-only event can be considered outreach? If so, you're the only one making that claim.

Mooeypoo (talkcontribs)

You keep moving the goalpost, here, though.

You asked a question: Are these groups allowed. Fairly quickly you've received several answers showing that it seems to be allowed, and perhaps even encouraged.

You seem to have taken this into an angle where it agrees with you.

I am asking again, then: What, exactly, is your goal here? If your goal was to ask the question in the thread, it seemed to have been answered previous to my participation -- and in multiple threads we both participated in, in the past, in previous Code of Conduct discussions in the archive.

So, again, what is the goal? Is your intent to offer that you should participate in such events yourself? Is it that we need to never have these type of events except outreachy? Is that what the discussion is about?

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

I'm not moving any goalposts. Yes, I did get several answers. Fortunately for me, this is not the kind of question that's decided by a majority vote. It's a fairly simple yes-or-no question, and hopefully by discussing it here we can reach clarity on what the answer is. Your repeated questions about my intent are starting to feel like harassment. If you don't think this is a conversation worth having, you don't need to be involved.

Mooeypoo (talkcontribs)

I am here to discuss a topic that I care about, just like you.

The reason why I repeatedly asked for your intent here, is because I want to make sure we are on the same page when we discuss a delicate issue of supporting the efforts of diversity and representation to underrepresented minorities.

I wanted to make sure that there are no misunderstandings as we discuss definitions and whether things are "yes-or-no" questions.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

Well, maybe that's part of the problem: you see this as a delicate issue, and I don't. I'd say that maybe 80% of the responses so far have been on the order of "women-only gatherings are important". Maybe they are, but that's not what I'm asking about: I'm just asking about whether they're allowed under this Code of Conduct. It's a bloodless question that should only involve reading comprehension; there's no moral aspect to it. Obviously I have my own views on the underlying issue, as does seemingly everyone else here, but they're irrelevant here, and hopefully all future discussion will focus on just the text.

Adamw (talkcontribs)

It looks like nothing more can be done to move this thread forward. I would probably summarize the outcome with exactly the quote used by the OP,

Discrimination [is unacceptable], particularly against marginalized and otherwise underrepresented groups. Targeted outreach to such groups is allowed and encouraged.

The other confusions proliferating here circle around the question of whether a vaguely-specified meeting was a legitimate outreach event or not, but without naming the event, or giving the exact wording that is supposedly problematic, nobody will be able to diagnose your issue.


Yes, agreed, speculation without specifics isn't very helpful, and the language of this CoC is somewhat dependent on the scenario.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

@Adamw - I can name the event, but I'm not sure it would help that much, because I'm asking in general terms here - not just for this event but for any future events. Let's say that there's a Wikimedia-affiliated event in the future that's billed as women-only, that it's not intended to bring in new developers, and that a man tries to enter and is turned away (which is pretty easy to do for online-only events, by the way). Would that be acceptable under the CoC, or not? Or would you still need more information than that to know for sure?

Varnent (talkcontribs)

This same argument that supporting minorities is unfair to the majority has come up within this movement dozens of times before in discussions around movement affiliates, grant funding, and non-technical events (which are usually covered by a similar Friendly Space policy). I have served on volunteer committees that were asked this same question in regards to affiliates and Wikimania events, and it was dismissed each time. It has also unsuccessfully been used to try and argue that Boards and committees should note be allowed to have private meetings either. Women are hardly the only ones having private gatherings at events, and this is hardly a new question.

This has come up so many times, I am surprised that it has once again come up. Each time, we have reasonably come to the same conclusion as governments and other movements (including ones who we framed our CoC in part after) that of course these events should be allowed. I see nothing in the CoC that suggests the approach we take with affiliates and non-tech events should not apply here as well. Similar to arguments that we should fund "Straight Pride" and "White Pride" events because of the "Wiki Loves Pride" efforts - this falls flat for me. There are recognized differences between events which cultivate healthy relationships among minority groups and events which are just trying to make a counterpoint or argument around identity politics.

Disrupting private spaces is arguably more discriminatory (as it does not recognize their unique needs or our privilege as outsiders) than their attempts to make the events safe and private. I continue to applaud efforts by minority groups in our movement to find ways to come together and support each other - which is hard enough to do without never-ending philosophical debates on if these groups should even be allowed to meet or be recognized. The arguments against them appear as weak to me as the arguments against many other well established things in our movement such as Gender Gap work and outreach to developing nations.

Would an event for female developers that does not allow male identified developers into the space be discriminatory under the CoC? No more than some regional meetings, private Board meetings, private CoC meetings, or any other private gathering that has been taking place in our movement for over a decade. The only outcome of these debates that I have seen is making things more stressful and difficult for minorities than they already have it. Surely there are more important, legit, and less already drudged out issues to address than if men can crash a women's tea party or luncheon. Do we really need to have this argument for the umpteenth time yet again and stress out a bunch of folks trying to create a safe space? Let the female identified participants have their beverages and discussions in safe privacy and decide for themselves what guests, if any, to allow to attend. Frankly wanting to barge into their events feels rather creepy and voyeuristic to me personally (not speaking to motives of others - just speaking to how it makes me feel). I have heard this argument dozens of times, but still do not understand what secrets people believe are held within these meetings that they have an obligation to intervene into. Our movement respects reasonable privacy, let's respect each other's here.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

@Varnent - I would classify most of what you wrote as interesting but irrelevant to the original question. That's fine - anyone is free to share their opinions. But if I can summarize your relevant points, you seem to be basically saying that the Code of Conduct does not outlaw any discrimination. All private meetings are a form of discrimination, the CoC does not outlaw private meetings, ergo the CoC can't be interpreted to outlaw discrimination. That's a valid reading, actually, and I think it points again to the poor wording of that part of the Code of Conduct. But it seems to me that "discrimination" there has to mean specifically "discrimination based on demographic attributes like race, gender, etc." Otherwise, as you note, it's an absurd statement.

Varnent (talkcontribs)

@Yaron Koren: Unsurprisingly, you offered an inaccurate summary of what I said. Your assessment of my input as irrelevant I feel suggests nothing more you say warrants any reply from me. I wish you well, but your reply makes me increasingly confident your arguments will once again fail.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

Well, I said mostly irrelevant.

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

@Adamw - you may have lost interest in this conversation, which is fine. I'm still curious, though, if you're willing to answer: is there any kind of women-only event that you would agree falls under (banned) discrimination, rather than (encouraged) outreach?

Yair rand (talkcontribs)

I'm finding this thread hard to follow. The original question is whether the language of the document would prohibit events that specifically excluded men. Certain responses seemed to deal with whether such events would be harmful or not, which confused the OP. I suspect that the point of confusion came over different definitions of discrimination, of whether or not things must be harmful to count as discrimination. If one uses a definition such that there's no such thing as harmless/beneficial discrimination, then points about the benefits of women-only events is not a non sequitur, but a relevant point to determining the answer to the original question.

Am I close? (I'm guessing here, I've never heard the word used like that, but certain groups shift definitions around quickly enough that it wouldn't surprise me if many here understood the word that way.)

Yaron Koren (talkcontribs)

@Yair rand - I think you're on to something here. I figured that a lot of this discussion would come down to the meaning of words like "discrimination" and "outreach", which can have multiple definitions. Somehow, though, I didn't think of the possibility that it could be defined as, essentially, something that can only be done by the "privileged". That would actually explain a lot of the previous discussion - like Varnent's seemingly bizarre claim that men trying to enter a women-only meeting (i.e, "disrupting private spaces") are themselves engaging in discrimination. If you define discrimination as something like "giving different people different opportunities, based on their demographics", this makes no sense. If, on the other hand, you define it as something like "being rude to women and minorities", then it makes perfect sense.

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