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Over 1.7b women in emerging markets do not own mobile phone – GSMA report

By Emeka Aginam, in Barcelona, Spain

Latest report released yesterday by GSMA has revealed that over 1.7 billion females in emerging markets do not own mobile phones.

The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with more than 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem.

The research further indicated that 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, the report indicated that 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 report titled, ‘Bridging the Gender Gap: Mobile Access and Usage in Low- and Middle-income Countries’, examined 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.

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 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,” Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA, said, adding that, “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.”

According to him, “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.”

Key findings

The top five barriers to women owning and using mobile phones from a customer perspective, according to the report were, 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 phone as tool for women

The report, also revealed that mobile phones are important tools for enhancing the lives of women in low- and middle-income countries.

Of 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, while around 74 per cent said mobile phones do or would save time.

Approximately 68 per cent of women, according to the study reported they would feel safer with a mobile phone.

Social and economic benefits

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 20202; and deliver a positive economic contribution to society.

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