The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2024

The gender gap in mobile internet adoption has narrowed for the first time since 2020 

In 2023, the world was more connected than ever before with more than 3.7 billion people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) accessing the internet on a mobile phone. Mobile is the primary way people, especially women, are accessing the internet in LMICs, accounting for 84% of broadband connections in 2023.

Our Mobile Gender Gap Report 2024 highlights that the gender gap in mobile internet adoption across LMICs narrowed for the first time in three years, from 19% in 2022 to 15% in 2023. This brings the gender gap back to where we were in 2020. The gender gap in smartphone ownership saw a similar trend, narrowing slightly from 15% in 2022 to 13% in 2023, but the gender gap in overall mobile ownership remained relatively unchanged at 8%. 

This narrowing mobile internet gender gap was due to women adopting it at a faster rate than men – 120 million women across LMICs adopted mobile internet in 2023 compared to 75 million men. In fact, compared to 2022, fewer men started using mobile internet in 2023, but there was an increase in the rate of adoption by women. While the reduction in the mobile internet gender gap is a promising shift compared to the previous two years, it is not yet clear whether women’s rate of mobile internet adoption will continue to increase and whether the mobile internet gender gap will continue to narrow.   

This gender gap is also still substantial. Women are 15% less likely than men in LMICs to use mobile internet, which means there are 265 million fewer women than men using mobile internet in these countries.  

At the regional level, these gender gaps are widest in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where more than 60% of the 785 million unconnected women in LMICs live. However, these are also the only regions that have seen any progress in the past year. The gender gap in mobile internet narrowed slightly in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2022 and 2023 for the first time in five years, from 36% to 32%, but this gender gap is similar to what it was in 2017 (34%). South Asia saw the most notable decrease in its gender gap, from 41% to 31%, driven primarily by India where women’s adoption increased while men’s remained unchanged.

Gender gap in mobile internet adoption across LMICs, 2017-2023 

We need to address the barriers preventing women from adopting and using mobile internet 

Beyond adoption it is important to ensure that women and men are also able to use it regularly and for a diverse range of use cases that meet their life needs. However, there is also a substantial gender gap in mobile internet use.  

It is critical to address the range of social, economic and cultural barriers that women face to adopting and using mobile internet. Across survey countries, the top barriers preventing men and women from adopting and using mobile internet are mobile internet awareness, affordability, literacy and digital skills and safety and security concerns. 

Awareness is a critical step to adoption and it has been growing across LMICs with more than 80% of people aware of mobile internet in most survey countries. However, in five of the 12 survey countries, between 20% and 50% of the population have still not heard of it, especially women. 

For men and women who are aware of mobile internet but do not use it, the top reported barriers to adoption are affordability (particularly of handsets) and literacy and digital skills. When men and women already use mobile internet, the top reported barriers to further use vary more by country than the barriers to adoption, but one or more of the following barriers are of greatest concern in each survey country: safety and security concerns, affordability (particularly data but also handsets) and connectivity experience (connections speeds or inconsistent/no coverage). 

Further research that features in the Mobile Gender Gap Report 2024 suggests that while the magnitude of these safety and security concerns does not always reflect the actual prevalence of negative experiences when using mobile internet, they are still important to address. Ensuring that women and men are not deterred from using the internet, and when they do they feel confident they can keep themselves, their families and personal information safe, is essential for them to reap the full benefits. As such, these safety and security concerns must be taken seriously by MNOs, internet companies and governments alike.  

Social and cultural norms underpin these barriers throughout the mobile internet user journey and mean women may feel them more acutely than men. In fact, while most people who are aware of mobile internet feel that it is equally important for both men and women to use it, among those who do not feel that it is equally important, a greater proportion believe that it is more important for men to use mobile internet.

Targeted action is needed to ensure mobile gender gaps continue to narrow 

Addressing the mobile gender gap provides significant social and commercial benefits to women and their families, societies, industry and economies. Connectivity is vital to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including those related to health, education and financial inclusion.  

Committing to driving the digital inclusion of women is key for all stakeholders but moving from commitment to action will be critical since the mobile internet gender gap remains substantial and will not close on its own. Moreover, the mobile gender gap not only reflects existing gender inequalities, but also threatens to exacerbate them. It is only through the targeted action and collaboration of different stakeholders that progress on this issue will truly accelerate.  

With mobile gender gaps narrowing for the first time in three years, it is essential to continue working to ensure no one is left behind in an increasingly digital world. When women thrive, societies, businesses and economies thrive. 

Read our latest GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2024 for more detailed findings and recommendations.

The GSMA Connected Women programme is currently funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and supported by the GSMA and its members. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also contributes to Mobile Gender Gap Report research as well as the programme’s work on female micro-entrepreneurs.