Digital and financial inclusion for women: Key themes at Mobile 360 – Africa 2017

August 7, 2017 | Connected Women | Sub-Saharan Africa | Cote d'Ivoire | Global | Kenya | Mali | Tanzania | Amber Wilson

The 2017 Mobile 360 – Africa event took place from 11 – 13 July at the Julius Nyerere International Convention Centre in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Accelerating digital and financial inclusion for women not only emerged as key priorities throughout the event, but they were highlighted as mainstream issues, of relevance to all.

In her opening keynote address, Vice President of Tanzania, H. E. Samia Suluhu Hassan, challenged governments and mobile operators to determine how we can truly close the gender gap in mobile and ensure benefits for all. Closing the mobile gender gap not only empowers women, but positively benefits whole communities. At our Connected Women session, Accelerating Digital and Financial Inclusion for Women, Nelusigwe Mwangota (Vodacom Tanzania) highlighted the “ripple effect” that improving the financial position of women creates for the family, society and industry. Indeed, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that empowering women can help lift entire families and communities out of poverty, not to mention the significant revenue opportunity that closing the mobile gender gap unlocks for the mobile industry. It is clear that digital and financial inclusion for women can help to achieve several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is also clear that connecting women calls for widespread engagement, including the involvement of men. Encouragingly, the Connected Women session was full to the brim, with standing room only and roughly equal participation of men and women.

A holistic approach

The importance of taking a holistic approach to accelerating digital and financial inclusion for women was reflected in a keynote speech by Rachel Samrén (Millicom Group). Samrén identified several, overlapping themes in terms of bridging the digital divide in Africa, including affordability, education, the gender gap and locally relevant content. Connected Women’s Bridging the gender gap report takes a similarly holistic view when considering the barriers to phone ownership and usage for women, identifying: cost; network quality and coverage; security and harassment; operator/agent trust and technical literacy and; confidence. A key takeaway of the report is that “cost is the most important barrier overall to owning and using a mobile phone, particularly for women, who often have less financial independence.” This was reiterated throughout the M360 – Africa event.

Handset affordability

Research presented by Christoph Stork (Research ICT Africa) at a Connected Society side event included recent Tanzanian survey data demonstrating a significant gender divide in mobile phone ownership. It also identified affordability as the main barrier to smartphone ownership, with 61.1% of female respondents reporting, “I cannot afford one, it is too expensive.” Our recent GSMA Connected Society/Connected Women report, Accelerating Affordable Smartphone Ownership in Emerging Markets, also demonstrated that women lag behind in terms of smartphone ownership in emerging economies; “the cost of mobile phone ownership can be more of an issue for women as they often have limited financial independence, lower incomes and worse access to external sources of finance.”

Cultural values and social norms

As well as affordability, cultural and social barriers emerged as key underlying themes in discussions on closing the mobile gender gap. As Samrén noted in her keynote speech, “closing the gender gap starts at home”. Cultural and social dynamics also featured heavily in our Connected Women panel discussion. Panelist Woinde Shisael (Tigo Tanzania) explained how Tigo projects in Tanzania have demonstrated the importance of understanding the social fabric of a community when trying to reach more women. Rukia Iddi Mtingwa (Zantel) identified some of the cultural barriers to women’s digital and financial inclusion in Zanzibar. She also highlighted the importance of involving men – who often sit at the head of the household in African society – in bridging the gender divide.

The mobile money opportunity

The third day at M360 – Africa was the GSMA’s annual Mobile Money Global Event. Leading industry stakeholders discussed the future of mobile money and a shared view throughout was that collaboration is a key driver for industry growth as we shift to interconnected digital economies. Such platforms will have the most impact on global development goals if they are truly inclusive, particularly when it comes to reaching women. It was highlighted that there are more mobile money accounts than traditional bank accounts in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile money presents a significant opportunity for the acceleration of women’s financial inclusion, as reflected by Rachel Samrén, who stressed the importance of research to understand the motivations and drawbacks for women when using MFS products. In the Connected Women session, Claire Sibthorpe, Head of Connected Women at the GSMA, shared research findings from our recent Mapping the mobile money gender gap report, showcasing the value of gender-disaggregated data in identifying opportunities for better targeting and reaching of women with mobile money. One of the report’s recommendations is to “make mobile money products more relevant” to women. In line with this, panelist Eunice R.G. Mumma (Safaricom Ltd. Kenya) emphasised the importance of the “execution tool” used to reach women, saying: “it’s not about a pink SIM card or a pink phone – it’s about amplifying the benefits of a product so that women see their relevance.”

Making commitments

The Tanzanian Vice President, H. E. Samia Suluhu Hassan, called for commitments by mobile operators and governments to accelerate digital and financial inclusion for women. Our Connected Women Commitment Initiative is working towards this aim, with a current total of 43 commitments across 31 operators. This includes the 5 new signatories announced in the keynote address by the GSMA’s Director General, Mats Granryd: EconetLeo, Orange Cote d’Ivoire, Safaricom Ltd. Kenya, Telenor Pakistan and Vodacom Tanzania joined the many other GSMA operator members in committing to connect millions more women in low- and middle-income countries by 2020. Connected Women and its partners have already reached over 17 million women with life enhancing services and will continue to drive forward efforts to reduce the mobile gender gap and ensure that women are not left behind in an increasingly connected world.


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