In 2020, connectivity is more important than ever. Internet access is a gateway to critical information, services and opportunities available to many people for the first time. Growth in internet access has been remarkable in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where 2.9 billion people now access the internet on their mobile phones.
Across LMICs, mobile is the primary way most people access the internet, with mobile broadband connections comprising 87 per cent of total broadband connections.
Closing the mobile gender gap
Despite its importance, mobile access and use remains unequal. Across LMICs, women are still eight per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone, and 20 per cent less likely to use the internet on a mobile. This means in these markets, 300 million fewer women than men use mobile internet. A key barrier is smartphone ownership. Women are 20 per cent less likely than men to own a smartphone, and have less autonomy and agency in smartphone acquisition. However, there is promising evidence some of the widest gender gaps are beginning to close. In South Asia, the mobile internet gender gap has narrowed from 67 per cent in 2017 to 51 per cent in 2019, bringing another 78 million women online.
Much work remains, but this suggests mobile gender gaps can be reduced and the benefits of connectivity distributed more equally. It is critical that the mobile gender gap is understood and overcome, as mobile ownership and use provides life-changing benefits to women, their families, communities and the economy. The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020 takes an in-depth look at how progress is being made on closing the mobile gender gap. Research has found mobile ownership makes the majority of men and women feel safer, provides access to important information for the first time and supports them in work and study.
The GSMA’s Connected Women programme is supporting mobile operators to drive digital and financial inclusion for women. As of March 2020, 39 mobile operators across Africa, Asia and Latin America have made formal commitments to reduce the gender gap in their mobile money or mobile internet customer base, collectively reaching over 35 million additional women since 2016.
Mobile operators taking action
Mobile operators realise the societal and economic benefits of ensuring women access and use mobile phones. Operators and their partners are taking action globally to help more and more women benefit from connectivity.
In Kenya, Safaricom is unlocking access to healthcare with M-Tiba, a mobile money solution for health care costs. This service has grown into a healthcare platform helping women and other unconnected people across Africa afford life-saving access to healthcare.
Access to a mobile phone can also give women the independence and security they need to deal with sensitive personal matters. In Sri Lanka, Dialog Axiata is providing thousands of women with confidential medical, social and legal support around sensitive personal issues through their Yeheli app.
In addition to these initiatives which specifically address health and well-being, operators are also working to make sure women have access to a phone in the first place. Without access to a mobile phone, women won’t be able to benefit from the life-changing opportunities that mobiles provide.
By launching an LTE-enabled phone available for under $10, Jio made internet affordable and accessible for the digitally excluded in India — the vast majority of whom are women. In doing so, Jio brought 100 million internet-deprived feature phone users onto its mobile broadband platform, with a large number of them getting online for the very first time.
Globally we are making progress on closing the mobile gender gap but there is still a lot of work to do. These initiatives are great examples of how mobile operators can support women in accessing the benefits of mobile internet and mobile phones and intelligently connecting everyone and everything to a better future.