Reflections on Mobile World Congress 2017 – a growing focus on gender equality

May 5, 2017 | Connected Women | Claire Lynch

I first attended Mobile World Congress in 2008 and on returning nearly 10 years later, I noted not only a shift in location, but also a change in tone and focus. It seemed that the issue of gender equality had taken on a much greater prominence. This year conference attendees were given the opportunity to collect badges marked with each individual Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). Of these, number five “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” proved the most popular, running out by the morning of day two. It was also the second of the SDGs highlighted by GSMA Director General Mats Granryd, during his keynote address on day two. In his speech, he noted that in low- and middle-income countries an estimated 200 million fewer women than men own a mobile phone, meaning that they miss out on key socio economic benefits. Even when women own a mobile phone, they are far less likely to use it for services such as mobile money and mobile internet.

The issues behind the gender gap in women’s use of mobile money and the potential measures to address it, formed a key part sessions on accelerating universal financial access at the Conference and in the Ministerial Programme. In these discussions a number of key themes emerged.

Hesitation, Education and Distribution Networks

In a fireside chat, Harmeen Mehta Global CIO of Bharti Airtel highlighted that mobile money provides a significant opportunity to increase financial inclusion among women. However, she also mentioned that women can be hesitant to use mobile money and highlighted the importance of strong agent networks, customer education and good customer service in realizing this opportunity. In India, Airtel is rolling out its payments bank, converting its retail outlets and establishing a large network of mobile money agents and merchants. Michael Joseph, MD of Mobile Money at Vodafone also highlighted the importance of a big distribution network and patience as key to the success of mobile money.

Mary Ellen Iskenderian President and CEO of Women’s World Banking noted that while women are slower adopters of mobile money, once they understand the benefits of mobile money they are as likely as men to use these services.

Savings and use cases

The importance of relevant use cases was highlighted as well as the need to continue to introduce new use cases. The use of savings as a mechanism to drive women towards the use of mobile money, emerged as a key theme. Speakers noted that mobile money services can appeal to women by allowing women to save money efficiently and safely. Diego Gutierrez, CEO of Tigo Tanzania, also highlighted the importance of addressing the needs of women and gave the example of a savings product being delivered in Chad.

Commercial Opportunity

Repeated throughout the discussions on the future of mobile money, was the market opportunity presented by closing the gender gap in the use of mobile financial services. It was highlighted that reducing the gender gap in mobile money, was key to scaling mobile money services and for achieving mobile money growth. It is important to focus on women, since they make up approximately 50 per cent of the population. Many women are also financially excluded and mobile money services can help address their needs.

Connected Women One Year On

Last year at Mobile World Congress 2016, we launched the Connected Women Commitment Initiative, where mobile operators are making formal commitments to reduce their gender gap in mobile internet and/or mobile money services by 2020. There are now 24 mobile operators, who have made commitments and realizing this significant commercial and socio-economic opportunity. There is no silver bullet that will close the gender gap, as a complex range of factors prevent women from accessing and fully using mobile phone services. However, by working together we hope to increase women’s digital and financial inclusion. When women thrive, societies, businesses and economies thrive.

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