By Trina DasGupta (Program Director, GSMA mWomen) Mobile phone adoption in the developing world is growing at a rapid rate; today four out of five mobile connections are in developing countries.1
The mobile phone is one of many pieces of tech in our lives in the US, while for some in South Asia or Africa for example, it is the first and only communication tool -- making the distribution of mobile phones at scale not only disruptive, but potentially life changing.
41% of women in low- to middle-income countries say that their mobile phone gives them greater access to income generating opportunities, meaning a potential pathway out of poverty. 90% of those same women say they feel safer and more connected having a mobile phone, which is critical in places where crime rates and incidences of violence are high. In a place like Afghanistan, where one out of two women die during childbirth, being able to call the doctor (rather than walking for hours) can be the difference between life and death.
However, women, particularly those living on less than $2/day, are not benefiting from mobile technology in an equal manner to men. Research by the GSMA and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women found that a woman in a low- to middle-income country is 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than a man.
This mobile phone gender gap represents at least 300 million women in the developing world without access to this potentially life-enhancing tool. It also represents a potential $13 billion missed market opportunity for the mobile industry.2
Why does this mobile phone gender gap exist? Broadly, it is a symptom of existing gender inequality, including women’s limited access to education and income in developing countries. More specifically, women report the following barriers to mobile phone ownership include:
- The total cost of ownership, including the price of handsets, services and charging (particularly for those who live off an electrical grid);
- Cultural barriers -- often men are not comfortable with women having access to communication technologies
- Women’s own fear of being able to effectively use mobile technology;
The GSMA mWomen Program was launched in October 2010 with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mrs. Cherie Blair and a working group of today 30 mobile industry companies - including Vodafone, MTN, Airtel, Microsoft, Google and many others -- to address these barriers and close the mobile phone gender gap.
The aim of the program is to ensure that women, particularly those most in need, are a part of every day business within the mobile industry in emerging markets, so that women can have access to life-enhancing services, like health care and education, on their mobile phone. The model is to both do good and do well.
We are doing this by designing and implementing a business case framework in collaboration with the mobile industry, gathering evidence that women are valuable mobile subscribers, while also addressing the key barriers the mobile industry faces in emerging markets -- such as the difficulty in tracking operational data by gender in a pre-paid sales network. Furthermore, GSMA mWomen has commissioned a multi-country piece of research to better understand the day-to-day aspirations and challenges of women living on less than $2/day.
However, the private sector cannot address the mobile phone gender gap on its own. Thus the GSMA mWomen Program has been created as a global public-private partnership, with key funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).
he mobile industry’s core competency is an extensive distribution network, while the public sector are experts in key arenas such as health care and education. Working together these sectors are able to leverage each other’s strengths.
GSMA mWomen serves as bridge-builders between the sectors and is helping to develop a sustainable, long-term ecosystem to close the mobile phone gender gap and deliver life-enhancing services to women in developing countries.
To learn more about the GSMA mWomen Program or to get involved, please visit www.mwomen.org.
1 According to 2011 Wireless Intelligence data, there are 4.4 billion mobile connections in the developing world and 1.2 billion in the developed.
2 GSMA and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, authored by Vital Wave Consulting. “Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity.” February 2010.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Trina DasGupta is the mWomen Program Director for the GSMA, representing the interests of the worldwide mobile industry. As head of the GSMA mWomen Program, Trina manages an unprecedented, global, public-private partnership between the mobile industry, governments and the international development community. Launched by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the program aims to close the mobile phone gender gap and bring women life-changing services, such as healthcare and education, via mobile. Prior to the GSMA, Trina worked with South Africa’s largest HIV prevention NGO, loveLife, to create the world’s first mobile-based social network centered on youth empowerment and HIV prevention. Trina also regularly consults for consumer brands, non-profits, and political organizations. Previous clients include Sesame Workshop, the Kaiser Family Foundation, Voxiva Inc. and the Democratic National Committee. Before consulting, Trina worked for MTV Networks as the Manager of Integrated Marketing & New Business Development, developing creative concepts that brought in over $31 million in new revenue in under two years.