GSMA: mobile phone gender gap emerges

The GSMA today released ‘Bridging the Gender Gap: Mobile Access and Usage in Low- and Middle-income Countries’, a report that examines mobile phone ownership by women, as well as the barriers to mobile phone adoption and usage and identifies actionable opportunities for stakeholders across the mobile ecosystem to accelerate the uptake of mobile technology by women. The report builds on the findings from the ‘Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity’ report launched in 2010, which first highlighted the disparity in mobile phone ownership between men and women in low- and middle-income countries.

“The ubiquity and affordability of mobile presents us with the unprecedented opportunity to improve and enhance social and economic development; however, as our study shows, women in particular tend to be left behind as owners of mobile phones and as consumers of mobile services,” said Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA. “By addressing the gender gap in mobile phone ownership and use, we will deliver substantial benefits for women, the mobile industry and the broader economy.”

This new large-scale study looks at how, in the five years since the benchmark study was launched, access to mobile phones has increased substantially and mobile phone penetration rates are accelerating rapidly in the developing world. However, the study also finds that despite the progress that has been made, women continue to be left behind and challenges remain in ensuring that women are included in an increasingly connected and internet-enabled world.

The research showed that over 1.7 billion females in low- and middle-income countries do not own mobile phones and women on average are 14 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, creating a gender gap of 200 million fewer women than men owning mobile phones. In particular, women in South Asia are 38 per cent less likely to own a phone than men, highlighting that the gender gap in mobile phone ownership is wider in certain parts of the world. Interestingly, even when women own mobile phones, there is a significant disparity in mobile phone usage, with women using phones less frequently than men, especially for more sophisticated services such as mobile internet. In most countries surveyed, fewer women than men who own phones report using messaging and data services beyond voice.

The top five barriers to women owning and using mobile phones from a customer perspective are cost; network quality and coverage; security and harassment via mobile; operator or agent trust; and technical literacy and confidence issues. Social norms and disparities between men and women in terms of education and income influence women’s access to and use of mobile technology, and often contribute to women experiencing barriers to mobile phone ownership and use more acutely than men.

Mobile Phones Benefit for Women

The report finds that mobile phones are important tools for enhancing the lives of women in low- and middle-income countries. Of the thousands of women interviewed in this report across 11 countries, including both mobile phone owners and non-owners:

  • At least 89 per cent said mobile phones help or would help them stay in touch with friends and family;
  • Around 74 per cent said mobile phones do or would save time;
  • Approximately 68 per cent of women reported they feel or would feel safer with a mobile phone;
  • At least 58 per cent said they would feel or felt more autonomous and independent; and
  • At least 60 per cent of women in 10 out of the 11 countries said mobile phone ownership saves or would save them money, and at least 60 per cent of women in every country claimed that a mobile phone helps or would help make running errands either more convenient or less expensive.

The report found that achieving parity in ownership and use between men and women in low- and middle-income countries could bring socio-economic benefits, such as the availability of new education and employment opportunities, to an additional 200 million women; unlock an estimated US $170 billion market opportunity for the mobile industry by 2020; and deliver a positive economic contribution to society.

Bouverot added, “Taken together, our research indicates that the gender gap in mobile ownership and use is driven by a complex set of socio-economic and cultural barriers that negatively affect women. Without targeted intervention from the mobile industry, policy makers, and other stakeholders, the gender gap in ownership and use is unlikely to close naturally on its own.”

 

 

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