While hundreds of millions more women now have access to mobile phones, hundreds of millions more still do not.
A new GSMA study reveals about 80% of women in low- and middle-income countries now own mobile phones.
According to the GSMA’s 2019 Mobile Gender Gap Report, released on February 19, mobile phones are the primary means of Internet access in these markets, in which about 48% of women use their phones to get online.
Yet despite the growth in connectivity, the gender gap in mobile ownership is not closing. Women remain 10% less likely than men to own a mobile phone in low- and middle-income countries, and 23% less likely than men to use mobile Internet. The mobile gender gap varies by region and country, of course, but is widest in South Asia, where women are 28% less likely than men to own a mobile device, and 58% less likely to use the mobile Internet.
“We are seeing significantly increased mobile access for women, however in an increasingly connected world, women are still being left behind,” says Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA.
“While mobile connectivity is spreading quickly, it is not spreading equally. Unequal access to mobile technology threatens to exacerbate the inequalities women already experience.”
Mobile operators are taking action to address the mobile gender gap and promote digital and financial inclusion for women. As part of the GSMA Connected Women Programme’s Commitment Initiative, nearly 37 mobile operators from 27 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America have committed to reducing the gender gap in their mobile money or mobile Internet customer base by 2020. These operators have provided more than 16 million additional women with access to digital and financial services since 2016.
That’s something that has Granryd feeling positive. “Ensuring digital and financial inclusion for women is critically important, as we know that when women thrive, societies, businesses and economies thrive,” says Granryd.
“Reaching the 432 million women in these countries who are still unconnected will require concerted effort and coordination from the mobile industry, as well as policy makers and the international community.”
In order to further decrease the mobile gender gap, the GSMA study highlights affordability, literacy, digital skills, a perceived lack of relevance, and safety and security concerns as some of the top barriers needing to be addressed.
Opportunity for economic growth
Unsurprisingly, the GSMA study found closing the gender gap in mobile ownership and usage represents a substantial commercial opportunity for the mobile industry. Over the next five years, low- and middle-income countries could gain an estimated additional US$140 billion in mobile industry revenue – that is, if operators could close the gender gap by 2023.
The GSMA also found that closing the mobile gender gap could be an important driver of general economic growth. Markets in low- and middle-income countries could also add an additional US$700 billion in GDP growth by 2023, according to the study.
The GSMA’s 2019 Gender Gap Mobile Report is available at: