Why it matters
SDG 5 focuses on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. Since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted by world leaders 25 years ago huge strides have been made, and women have more opportunities and access to technology now than ever before. However, a great deal of work remains to be done, as almost 40% of the world’s girls and women (1.4 billion individuals) live in countries that are failing on gender equality. Another 1.4 billion live in countries that “barely pass”.
The industry contribution
The mobile industry contributes to SDG 5 by increasing women’s access and use of mobile technology to enhance their lives and increasing women’s participation and leadership in the technology industry (not least as a recent UN Women Empowerment Principles signatory). Empowering women with mobile phones helps to accelerate both social and economic development.
In 2019, 1.8 billion women in LMICs – more than 80% of the adult female population – owned a mobile phone, an increase of more than 300 million since 2014. Furthermore, almost 1.2 billion women in those countries used mobile internet, representing more than half the adult female population. The majority of female mobile owners in LMICs agree that owning a mobile device makes them feel safer, helps them in their day-to-day work and provides access to information they would not have otherwise (The Mobile Gender Gap report, GSMA, 2020; The Mobile Gender Gap Report, GSMA, 2019).
Transforming communities, economies and women’s lives
Target 5.b: Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women.
Mobile technology can play a vital role in improving gender equality in social, economic and political dimensions, benefiting not only women themselves but also their communities, businesses and the broader economy. Mobile can empower women by providing them with access to services and life-enhancing opportunities, such as health information, financial services and employment opportunities, often for the first time.
Despite the importance of mobile, there remains a substantial mobile gender gap across LMICs: 165 million fewer women than men own a mobile device and 300 million fewer women access the internet on mobile. However, there is positive evidence to suggest that the mobile internet gender gap is narrowing, predominantly driven by improvements in South Asia (The Mobile Gender Gap report, GSMA, 2020; The Mobile Gender Gap Report, GSMA, 2019).
Mobile money can also help reduce the gender gap in financial inclusion. In LMICs, women are on average 33% less likely to use mobile money. However, in many of these countries, the gender gap is lower with mobile money than with traditional financial services. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, men are twice as likely as women to have an account with a financial institution, yet women are just as likely as men to have a mobile money account only. In Senegal, as much as 59% of women who are financially included own only a mobile money account.
India: mitigating women’s safety concerns with mobile
India has one of the highest levels of gender-based violence worldwide. It also has one of the widest mobile gender gaps among low- and middle-income countries. Only 63% of women in India have a mobile phone and they are 50% less likely than men to use mobile internet. Social and gender norms are a particular barrier to mobile adoption for women in the country.
Vodafone Idea’s Sakhi service was introduced to address some of the key barriers preventing Indian women from accessing and using mobile, as well as women’s concerns about personal safety – both the safety issues and threats that may arise from owning a mobile phone and the more general safety concerns that women experience that mobile could help address. Only registered women can access the free opt-in service. This includes a system to alert predefined contacts at the touch of a button, emergency credit and a means to privately top up without having to reveal personal phone numbers to agents, who are usually men. Unlike many tech-driven safety products, Sakhi was designed to work on smartphones, feature phones and basic phones.
Since its launch in October 2018, the Sakhi service has already reached millions of women, making a significant contribution to their well-being. For example, before subscribing to Sakhi, some women reported feeling extremely isolated, especially in an emergency situation, but since the introduction of the service into their lives, they feel a greater sense of confidence to be active in the community, socialise with family and friends, or simply be outside of their homes. Sakhi not only addresses personal safety concerns among women, but also their desire for opportunity, confidence and empowerment.
Effective participation and access to the ICT industry and cutting-edge technology
Target 5.5: Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.
As new technologies such as 5G and AI have become a reality, it is no longer sufficient to ensure only basic digital inclusion for women and girls. The ability to make use of digital technology has become essential in modern societies, with 90% of future jobs requiring digital skills. Women’s equal participation in the digital age requires knowledge and access to cutting-edge technology. Addressing women’s digital literacy needs, including advanced skills, can therefore also help enhance women’s representation in ICT-related industries and allow them equal participation in the digital economy.
It is also important that women become not only content consumers but also content creators. While globally there are more women attending and graduating university than men, women are less likely to major in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects and only 28% of female students pursue careers in the ICT sector versus 72% of male students. To combat this, in Nigeria a digital skills development programme was developed, teaching technology and programming, digital marketing and graphic design, which had a 50% women participation rate. In 2018, the same programme up-skilled 940 unemployed youths on online work, of which more than 50% were women.
Turkey: empowering women to crack code
Despite Turkey having the 17th largest economy in the world, only 37.5% of the country’s women have jobs compared to 78.1% of men. Further, attainment of education and skills in STEM was 14.24% for women compared to 26.01% for men according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020. This is evident in the growth of the workforce in the technology sector, where over a 10-year period women working in ICT decreased from 20% to just 10% in 2018, according to Eurostat.
In 2017, mobile operator Turkcell launched the largest education and employment project in the country, Women Developers of the Future, to narrow the digital gender gap, provide many more employment opportunities for women in the technology industry and place Turkey among the leading countries for software development. After women complete the initial in-class and online mobile application development training, two routes become available to them. The first opportunity, the ‘Entrepreneurship Journey’ allows them to learn how to create and sell their own mobile apps. The second opportunity is the ‘Tester Journey’, with Turkcell committed to upskilling 200 women to become directly employed by Turkcell to help them test its products and services. As part of the development team, these new employees can carry out the tests wherever they want and report back their corrections, innovations and findings
Since January 2018, they have reported over 5,600 bugs and proposed over 400 new features. More than 770 women have been trained in 18 cities, writing 2.3 million lines of code, since the start of the initiative. Over 200 mobile apps have been developed and launched by more than 300 women, and hundreds of women have found career and internship opportunities in the mobile industry. With the support of the presidency and NGOs, Turkcell aims to bring the programme to 4,000 more women.
Source: Mitigating Women’s Safety Concerns with Mobile: A Case Study of Vodafone Idea’s Sakhi service, GSMA Mobile for Development
Maximising impact by 2030
Enablers that could help maximise the mobile industry’s impact on SDG 5 include the following:
- Improving the availability and quality of gender-disaggregated data. This helps to set targets, create strategies, and track impact and progress.
- Improving affordability, primarily of smartphones. Across LMICs, women have less autonomy and agency in smartphone acquisition.
- Enhancing literacy and digital skills for women and girls. This is the primary reason why male and female mobile users do not use mobile internet in LMICs.
- Adopting and strengthening policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at all levels.