A framework to understand women’s mobile-related safety concerns in low- and middle-income countries

Pavati is a 20-year-old student living in New Delhi. She values her smartphone as a tool that increases her safety—when she goes out, she regularly shares her location with her friends via WhatsApp and whenever she feels uncomfortable she calls her friends or her family. However, Pavati also often receives sexually harassing calls, which has led her to change her SIM regularly.

“I received a call this morning, a man was talking in very rough language, asking for my details. I asked him who he was, then I ended the call. He then called again so I blocked it on the Truecaller app.”

There is a paradoxical relationship between mobile technology and women’s safety. Mobile can empower women, making them feel more connected, and safer.

“When I’m going home late at night after exams, then I’ll feel a bit scared. I just call my parents and stay on the phone the whole time so they know where I am.” – Female (aged 19), India

On the other hand, safety concerns related to mobile can be a significant barrier to mobile ownership and use, with women perceiving safety as an issue more commonly than men do. [1]

“Some of my friends have stopped using their phones. Every woman has patience but there is a limit. Some women cannot bear constant phone calls from strangers.” – Female (aged 25), Egypt

These mobile-related safety concerns tend to vary by country and within countries, and can be heavily influenced by social norms. It is important to note that the behaviours behind these safety concerns have always existed; mobile is simply a new conduit for them (e.g. harassment or fraud).

Women’s mobile-related safety concerns can be categorised into three types:

  • Physical world: Threats experienced in the physical world as a result of owning or using a mobile (e.g. phone theft, harassment when visiting points of sale, or domestic violence triggered by using mobiles)
  • Voice and SMS: Threats experienced via voice calls or SMS (e.g. calls or messages that are unwanted/sexually harassing/threatening)
  • Online: Threats experienced via mobile internet (e.g. social media harassment/bullying or misuse of personal data/images)

 

Mobile-related safety concerns can limit women’s use of mobiles or prevent them from owning a mobile phone altogether. This means that women miss out on the potentially life-changing socio-economic benefits that mobile can bring (for example, the ability to contact friends and family, access to online information and services, and opportunities to use mobile for economic benefit). By reducing access and use for women, mobile-related safety concerns lead to revenue loss for the industry in four main ways:

  • Reduced customer acquisition (as fewer women start to use mobile);
  • Reduced ARPU (as women limit or stop their use of mobile/mobile internet);
  • Increased churn (as women change phone number/SIM to avoid harassment and other threats);
  • Reduced handset and data revenue (as women avoid smartphones due to fear of theft or online mobile-related safety concerns).

 

Tackling women’s mobile related safety concerns will have wider socio-economic benefits, both in terms of helping to accelerate digital and financial inclusion for women and by creating a significant commercial opportunity for the mobile industry. [2]

The framework below demonstrates how initiatives are addressing mobile-related safety concerns, as well as general safety concerns that are not directly related to mobile. This framework was created from analysis of over 60 different initiatives (from NGOs and the Private sector) that were identified through desk research and stakeholder interviews. These initiatives have been categorised into 10 different types based on how they address these threats. More details including examples can be found in our report. [3]

Safety concerns, and a general perception that mobile or internet access and use can pose threats, should not be used as an excuse for denying women access. [4] Instead, stakeholders should aim to understand and address women’s mobile-related safety concerns, and emphasise the ways in which mobiles and access to services can empower women and enhance their personal safety.

Mobile-related safety concerns are unlikely to be resolved on their own, and as mobile internet use increases, they may become even greater, potentially exacerbating the mobile internet usage gender gap. A concerted effort by the mobile industry and other stakeholders is needed to address these concerns effectively, build women’s digital resilience and help ensure equal access and usage of mobile technololgy for women.

Recommendations – stakeholders can address mobile-related safety concerns by:

• Understanding the scale, impact and drivers of these concerns in their own contexts
• Designing, launching and/or supporting effective initiatives to tackle these concerns
• Raising awareness of the issue and the need to address it
• Promoting the positive role mobile can play in making women feel safer
• Helping women feel safer when using mobile and mobile internet by raising their awareness of safety-related initiatives, improving their digital skills and building their digital resilience
• Strengthening measures to protect women against internet-related abuse and harassment

[1] GSMA Connected Women  (https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/connected-women/the-mobile-gender-gap-report-2018/)
[2] GSMA Connected Women (https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/connected-women/the-mobile-gender-gap-report-2018/)
[3] GSMA Connected Women (https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/programme/connected-women/a-framework-to-understand-womens-mobile-related-safety-concerns-in-low-and-middle-income-countries/?utm_source=staff&utm_medium=referral)
[4] Broadband Commission Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide (http://broadbandcommission.org/Documents/publications/WorkingGroupDigitalGenderDivide-report2017.pdf)

 

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