Mobile has the power to transform lives. In my role as Director General of the GSMA, I have seen firsthand how mobile can empower women by making them feel safer and more connected and by giving them access to information and life-enhancing opportunities, often for the first time.
Last year, I had the opportunity to visit a health center in Tanzania and spoke with expectant mothers who told me how a mobile service called Wazazi Nipendeni gave them vital health information during and after their pregnancies. For example, one mother-to-be said that she feels more confident now because she knows what to expect during her pregnancy and can make sure that if there are any complications she knows what to do to keep herself and her baby safe. I also met with new mothers who were instantly registering the birth of their newborns using a mobile service from Tigo. This is such an important breakthrough as it provides the child an identity – and with that, access to education, government services and a more secure future. This is so powerful and truly shows how mobile is connecting everyone and everything to a better future.
The issue is that while mobile connectivity is spreading rapidly, it is not spreading equally. The GSMA’s Mobile Gender Gap Report 2018 report found that over 1.2 billion women in low- and middle-income countries do not use mobile internet and estimates that women are, on average, 10 percent less likely than men to own mobile phones and 26 percent less likely than men to use mobile internet. The mobile gender gap is also wider in certain parts of the world. South Asia has the largest average gender gap in both mobile ownership and mobile internet use, followed by Sub-Saharan Africa. In Tanzania, for example, women are 41 per cent less likely to use mobile internet services.
It is imperative that we meet this challenge head-on and ensure that women are not being left behind. Mobile is now the primary way to access the internet across the developing world and services such as mobile money can empower women, increase their financial independence and strengthen their role as financial decision makers. Addressing this gender gap can unlock substantial benefits for women, as well as the mobile industry and the broader economy.
Unfortunately, the gender gap is not going to close on its own. Its root causes are driven by a complex set of social, economic and cultural factors, which result in women experiencing barriers to mobile ownership and use more acutely than men. To close the mobile gender gap, we need to address these issues and focus on ensuring that mobile phones and services are accessible, affordable, safe, secure and relevant for women – and that they feel empowered to have the skills and confidence to use them.
It is my vision that the mobile industry drives digital and financial inclusion for women by taking a holistic approach in tackling these barriers. I am a champion of the GSMA Connected Women programme, designed to help the mobile industry reduce the gender gap and unlock significant commercial and socio-economic opportunities. Through the Connected Women Commitment Initiative, 36 mobile operators have made 51 formal commitments to reduce the gender gap in their mobile money and/or mobile internet customer base across Africa, Asia and Latin America. And, to date, the Connected Women programme and its mobile operator partners have delivered life-enhancing services to more than 22 million women, such as providing access to information, financial services and employment opportunities.
In addition to this programme, we are upholding the commitments made by the members of the Broadband Commission’s Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide, and leading the Access Coalition in EQUALS, the global partnership to close the digital gender divide, co-founded by the International Telecommunication Union, UN Women, the GSMA, the International Trade Centre, and the United Nations University. Further, the GSMA is proud to be serving as the Topic Chair of the Digital Inclusion theme within the W20 (Women 20) group.
This July at our Mobile 360 – Africa event in Rwanda, the GSMA will convene various stakeholders in Kigali to discuss the digital revolution. This will include a discussion on what can and is being done to accelerate women’s digital and financial inclusion. We hope that this event will inspire other stakeholders to join the conversation and take action to ensure that women are an integral part of the digital future.
As mobile and digital technologies proliferate, it is important that the mobile industry, policymakers and the development community continue to take action. As a B Team Leader, I’m committed to uniting the private and public sectors to leverage technology to accelerate change and tackle some of the biggest issues facing our world today – and this includes bridging the gender digital divide.
Closing the mobile gender gap represents a substantial commercial opportunity for the industry and can provide an effective catalyst for economic growth. Successfully closing the mobile gender gap will also provide substantial benefits to women, their families and their communities and will contribute to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. When women thrive, societies, businesses and economies thrive.
This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.
The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, is a government agency working on behalf of the Swedish parliament and government, with the mission to reduce poverty in the world. Through our work and in cooperation with others, we contribute to implementing Sweden’s Policy for Global Development.