Report Finds More Than 1.7 Billion Women in Low- and Middle-income Countries Do Not Own Mobile Phones, Creating a Gender Gap of 200 Million Women

Barcelona: The GSMA today released ‘Bridging the Gender Gap: Mobile Access and Usage in Low- and Middle-income Countries’, a reportthat examines mobile phone ownership by women, as well as the barriers to mobile phone adoption and usage and identifies actionable opportunities for stakeholders across the mobile ecosystem to accelerate the uptake of mobile technology by women. The report builds on the findings from the ‘Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity’ 1report launched in 2010, which first highlighted the disparity in mobile phone ownership between men and women in low- and middle-income countries.

“The ubiquity and affordability of mobile presents us with the unprecedented opportunity to improve and enhance social and economic development; however, as our study shows, women in particular tend to be left behind as owners of mobile phones and as consumers of mobile services,” said Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA. “By addressing the gender gap in mobile phone ownership and use, we will deliver substantial benefits for women, the mobile industry and the broader economy.”

This new large-scale study looks at how, in the five years since the benchmark study was launched, access to mobile phones has increased substantially and mobile phone penetration rates are accelerating rapidly in the developing world. However, the study also finds that despite the progress that has been made, women continue to be left behind and challenges remain in ensuring that women are included in an increasingly connected and internet-enabled world.

Key Research Findings
The research showed that over 1.7 billion females in low- and middle-income countries do not own mobile phones and women on average are 14 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, creating a gender gap of 200 million fewer women than men owning mobile phones. In particular, women in South Asia are 38 per cent less likely to own a phone than men, highlighting that the gender gap in mobile phone ownership is wider in certain parts of the world. Interestingly, even when women own mobile phones, there is a significant disparity in mobile phone usage, with women using phones less frequently than men, especially for more sophisticated services such as mobile internet. In most countries surveyed, fewer women than men who own phones report using messaging and data services beyond voice.

The top five barriers to women owning and using mobile phones from a customer perspective are cost; network quality and coverage; security and harassment via mobile; operator or agent trust; and technical literacy and confidence issues. Social norms and disparities between men and women in terms of education and income influence women’s access to and use of mobile technology, and often contribute to women experiencing barriers to mobile phone ownership and use more acutely than men.

Mobile Phones Benefit for Women
The report finds that mobile phones are important tools for enhancing the lives of women in low- and middle-income countries. Of the thousands of women interviewed in this report across 11 countries, including both mobile phone owners and non-owners:

  • At least 89 per cent said mobile phones help or would help them stay in touch with friends and family;
  • Around 74 per cent said mobile phones do or would save time;
  • Approximately 68 per cent of women reported they feel or would feel safer with a mobile phone;
  • At least 58 per cent said they would feel or felt more autonomous and independent; and
  • At least 60 per cent of women in 10 out of the 11 countries said mobile phone ownership saves or would save them money, and at least 60 per cent of women in every country claimed that a mobile phone helps or would help make running errands either more convenient or less expensive.

Social and Economic Benefits
The report found that achieving parity in ownership and use between men and women in low- and middle-income countries could bring socio-economic benefits, such as the availability of new education and employment opportunities, to an additional 200 million women; unlock an estimated US $170 billion market opportunity for the mobile industry by 20202; and deliver a positive economic contribution to society.

Bouverot added, “Taken together, our research indicates that the gender gap in mobile ownership and use is driven by a complex set of socio-economic and cultural barriers that negatively affect women. Without targeted intervention from the mobile industry, policy makers, and other stakeholders, the gender gap in ownership and use is unlikely to close naturally on its own.”


Notes to Editors
1GSMA, Cherie Blair Foundation, and Vital Wave Consulting, 2010, ‘Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity

2 GSMA Intelligence ‘The Mobile Economy 2014’

Findings from this report were based on primary and secondary research conducted by Altai Consulting. Primary field research was conducted in 11 countries; China, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Mexico, Niger and Turkey, and included surveys with 11,000 women and men (both mobile phone owners and non-owners), approximately 80 focus group discussions, and interviews with over 120 experts. The findings from this research, combined with secondary sources, have been used to estimate the gender gap in mobile phone ownership in low- and middle-income countries, and to identify trends and recommendations that will help stakeholders ensure women have access to mobile technology and benefit from using it.

The full report can be found at:

GSMA Connected Women Programme
The GSMA Connected Women Programme builds upon the achievements of both the mWomen Programme which was launched by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in October 2010 to increase women’s access to and use of mobile phones and life-enhancing mobile services in developing markets and GSMA Connected Women, launched in Brussels in 2012 to close the ICT skills gender gap, attract and retain female talent and encourage female leadership in technology on a global basis.

The Connected Women programme builds on the momentum of these two programmes through the delivery of research, technical assistance, convenings, advocacy case studies, best practices and toolkits to further address the digital skills and connectivity gender gaps to enable women to meet their full potential as consumers and employees. For more information visit:

About the GSMA
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with more than 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and Internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors. The GSMA also produces industry-leading events such as Mobile World Congress, Mobile World Congress Shanghai and the Mobile 360 Series conferences. 

For more information, please visit the GSMA corporate website at Follow the GSMA on Twitter: @GSMA

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