Published every year, the GSM Association (GSMA) releases its Mobile Gender Gap Report describing progress towards closing the gender gap in mobile handset ownership and use of the mobile internet. Since 2017, the report has described the status of the gender gap across 10 low and middle income countries (LMICs) where data is collected, noting the benefits mobile access brings to women and girls, even while highlighting some of the stickier barriers to mobile access and use.
For the past few years, that gap has been steadily closing – until 2022, that is. TechnoServe’s Global Gender Director, Cristina Manfre, comments on the report’s findings and shares some of the ways TechnoServe is working to close the mobile gender gap.
What Changes Have Occurred with the Mobile Gender Gap?
As the immediate threats of severe illness and death from COVID-19 have waned, other negative impacts are emerging. In 2022, the fifth edition of the Mobile Gender Gap Report revealed that earlier gains in closing the gender gaps in mobile phones in Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Guatemala, and Mexico have slowed and even reversed. The rate of mobile internet adoption further slowed for women over the last year.
Since 2017, the mobile internet gap between women and men had been closing: from 25% to 15% in 2020. In 2021, this rose to 16%, as the rate of adoption slowed for women, while men’s mobile internet use increased and accelerated. Women are now 19% less likely than men to use mobile internet across LMICs.
However, the story is not the same for everyone. While affordability, literacy, digital skills, and safety and security remain the most critical barriers to accessing handsets and using mobile internet across the 10 countries featured in the report, there are important regional differences.
Gender gaps in mobile internet use in Latin America and the Caribbean are small and decreasing, from 6% in 2017 to 1% in 2021. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the gap in mobile internet use has remained fairly consistent, around 36-37%. The most significant changes occurred in South Asia, where despite a significant reduction in the gap from 67% in 2017 to 36% in 2020, in 2021 this rose to 41%.
The findings are timely, as the United Nations has selected this year’s International Women’s Day theme as “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” to bring attention to the need for technology and innovation to meet the needs of women, as well as the negative impact of the digital gender gap on economic and social inequalities.
Costs and Benefits: Why You Should Pay Attention to the Digital Gender Gap
The cost of women’s exclusion from the digital world over the last 10 years was estimated at $1 trillion from the gross domestic product (GDP) of LMICs. Similarly, it was estimated in 2020 that the cost of the gender gap in internet use in 32 of these countries was a loss of $126 billion in GDP. GSMA research values the closing of the gender gap in mobile ownership and use at $140 billion in revenue for the mobile industry over a five-year period.
However, the benefits go beyond the business case for the economy or the mobile industry. Mobile phones bring tangible and intangible benefits to women. They open opportunities to access new information, expand networks and relationships, and reduce the time and costs of transactions.
According to women surveyed in the Mobile Gender Gap study, mobile phones help them with their daily activities, make them feel safer, facilitate access to information they would not have otherwise, and provide support to their work or business. For example, the median proportion of women who reported that mobile phones made them feel safer because they enabled them to contact someone in an emergency or receive mobile money was 81%. Among self-employed or employed women, the median proportion of women mobile owners who reported that their mobile phone helped them with their work was 90%, only 1% lower than for men.
TechnoServe’s partnerships with financial service providers in the Women IN Business (WIN) program reveal similar benefits for women entrepreneurs. With funding from the Embassy of Sweden in Mozambique, TechnoServe tested different approaches to empower women through digital financial services, including delivering financial and digital literacy; product and marketing design; expanding the agent system; and digitizing customer payments.
Across the different approaches, the results for women were clear: 60% reported feeling they had more control over their finances, 61% felt safer and more secure handling their finances, 54% expressed feeling more confident about the use of their finances, and 62% were able to spend more time in their businesses, with their families, or doing other activities.
Why Closing the Mobile Gender Gap is So Important
The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022 highlights the urgent need to address the persistent gender gap in mobile ownership and usage in low- and middle-income countries. By closing this gap, we can unlock the full potential of mobile technology to empower women, drive economic growth, and promote social development. The report’s recommendations provide a roadmap for policymakers, industry leaders, and civil society organizations to take concrete action towards closing the mobile gender gap and achieving gender equality.
Closing the gender gap in the access and use of digital technology is necessary for advancing women’s economic empowerment. The right technology, deployed the right way, can be one of the world’s most powerful weapons against poverty. However, many technology projects in the developing world fail because of a focus on technology first and a lack of understanding of local markets and user needs.
Applying expertise grounded in local knowledge and understanding of the needs of people in developing countries, TechnoServe uses digital solutions across our programs in order to reach more people with proven approaches to improving their knowledge, skills, incomes, and opportunities. From remote sensing to e-learning platforms to applications for improving supply chains, TechnoServe applies a variety of tech-enabled approaches to help these people fight poverty around the world.
Access to technology can be a game-changer for communities facing poverty and economic instability. With the right tools, resources, and support, individuals can build businesses that create jobs, drive economic growth, and improve livelihoods. TechnoServe.org is committed to empowering women in developing countries through training, mentorship, and access to capital. To learn more about TechnoServe.org’s work, check out the following articles:
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