Bridging the Identity Gender Gap

For both men and women, access to official proof-of-identity is increasingly seen as essential to securing the life-enhancing services that drive socio-economic development, including healthcare, education, financial services, mobile connectivity and social protection. However, there is widespread evidence that of the 1.1 billion people without access to ID, a disproportionate number are women and girls who, in many countries, remain particularly vulnerable as well as socially, politically and financially excluded.

The absence of identity documents among women and girls is both an effect, and the cause of, prevailing gender inequalities. In a number of economies, legal and cultural gender disparities make it more difficult for women to obtain a national identity card, apply for a passport, or to be recognised as the head of a household. And without proper documentation, women will be more likely to face barriers when attempting to access healthcare and education, exert their rights as citizens, or acquire a wide range of other public and private services.

It is clear that by delivering on Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 (‘By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration’), the international community will also effectively address SDG 5, which aims to eliminate key gender-specific challenges such as poverty, inequality, and violence against women.

In our newest report, the GSMA Digital Identity team explores the gender gap in birth registration, highlighting how mobile technology can be used to help parents overcome key barriers that prevent them from registering the birth of their daughters. Although data from UNICEF indicates that birth registration rates in most countries are relatively gender-neutral, girls in at least sixty-two countries are less likely than boys to be registered before the age of five. We include insights from a Digital Birth Registration project supported by Telenor Pakistan, which helped increase birth registration rates among girls in one target area in Sindh by nearly 800 percent. We also highlight mobile-enabled initiatives that facilitate the registration and empowerment of pregnant women, including Rwanda’s RapidSMS service and the MOTECH platform developed in Ghana.


Download the report


The report also examines institutional and cultural barriers that might influence whether a woman is able or incentivised to obtain national identity documents. Studies from the Financial Inclusion Insights programme have found that in many countries rural, poor women are the least likely demographic to have an ID and, therefore, the least likely to be able to sign up for any formal financial services, including mobile money. Short case studies on India and Pakistan are included to highlight successful ID and mobile SIM registration initiatives that benefitted both women and mobile network operators (MNOs), as well as gender-specific insights from the GSMA Digital Identity team’s end-user research in Tanzania, Cote D’Ivoire and Pakistan.


Here are three interesting take-aways from the report:

  • Bridging the ID gender gap will improve women’s access to and use of mobile: In more than 130 countries and counting, Know-Your- Customer (KYC) regulations now require customers to present a valid proof of identity before they can subscribe to mobile services. Lack of ID is one of the many reasons that women’s access to mobile services in many countries remains more restricted, and the services they use are less sophisticated, compared to men. The GSMA has estimated that by taking measures to close the gender gap in mobile ownership and usage, an estimated $170 billion market opportunity could be unlocked for the mobile industry from 2015 to 2020.


  • MNOs are well placed to offer new, identity-linked services that are relevant to women: But to achieve this, MNOs would benefit from analysing subscriber and transactional data with a gender lens; this will help operators identify priority customer segments, understand where there are opportunities for growth, and create targets for reducing the gender gap in mobile ownership and usage. MNO agents can help facilitate this by communicating the benefits of women using their own official identity documents, with accurate personal details, when registering for and using mobile services. The GSMA Connected Women programme has also outlined a new approach to analysing customer data in order to help MNOs better target women, and is engaged with numerous mobile operators who are committed to accelerating digital and financial inclusion for women.


  • Leverage agents and involve ‘gatekeepers’: The local presence and expertise of MNO agents, as well as the high levels of trust bestowed on them by their customers, should enable them to effectively communicate the benefits of mobile-based identity services to women in a way that is sensitive to cultural norms. In many locations, prevailing gender norms will mean that husbands and other male family members act as ‘gatekeepers’ to the mobile devices and services used by women. In cases such as this, it will be important for MNO’s to design solutions that are sensitive to gender norms, and also to target the gatekeepers (as well as women) when communicating the benefits of mobile-enabled identity-linked services.


The GSMA Digital Identity programme is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.

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