As we face the global challenges of 2020, we must ensure women have the skills and confidence to reap the benefits of mobile connectivity. They must also be equipped with more advanced digital skills to enable them to participate equally in ICT related industries.
Of the world’s 774 million illiterate adults, two-thirds are women. Across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), a lack of literacy and digital skills are the main barriers to mobile internet use among mobile users who are aware of it. It is the greatest barrier for women in Africa and both men and women in Asia. Female mobile owners in LMICs on average use a smaller range of services than men; a gap that remains even among smartphone owners. A lack of digital skills and confidence also prevents many women from owning a mobile phone in the first place.
If women lack the skills and confidence to access and use mobile handsets and services, including mobile internet, women risk missing out on the benefits of connectivity. They be left behind as societies and economies digitise. Women and girls are also less likely to have advanced digital skills which means they are underrepresented in STEM subjects and ICT careers.
Closing the gap
As technology is increasingly ingrained in our everyday life, the ability to make use of digital technology has become an essential competency in modern societies with 90 per cent of future jobs requiring digital skills. Despite their potential to empower women, technology careers are enmeshed with existing gender inequality, hindering women’s participation in the production, management, and use of technology.
The digital skills gender gap can be addressed by helping women and girls improve their digital skills. This can be done by supporting wider education activities to build digital skills into national education programmes. Programmes which encourage more girls to pursue STEM subjects will also help build the advanced digital skills women need to succeed in ICT careers.
Addressing women’s lower digital literacy and skills, including advanced skills, will help address the gender gap in mobile access and use across LMICs. It will enhance women’s representation in ICT related industries, and allow them equal participation in the digital economy. This will bring benefits not only to individual women and their families but also to society and the economy as a whole, while also contributing to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Mobile operators are working with governments and international organisations around the world to help women and girls build digital skills to realise this opportunity.
Mobile Operators Taking Action
In Bangladesh, Huawei and Robi Axiata are supporting a government initiative to train women and girls in rural areas in basic digital skills using a bus fitted out as a classroom. This initiative has already reached 63,000 women and girls and aims to reach an additional 166,000 by 2022.
Programmes like this are the first step in digital skill building and they help women and girls create the foundation on which to build more advanced digital skills. Mobile operators realise these go hand in hand and they are supporting several initiatives to increase representation in ICT careers and to build advanced ICT skills.
Turkcell is supporting the Women Developers of the Future programme which has trained more than 770 women across 18 cities in Turkey. Over 200 mobile apps have been developed and launched by more than 300 women. Hundreds of women have found career and internship opportunities in the mobile industry. With the support of the Turkish Government, the project has a future goal of reaching a million women in the country.
These are just a few examples of what the mobile industry is doing to address the basic and advanced digital skills gap. Helping women to create and fully participate in the digital economy can only lead to greater equality and prosperity across the board.