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Closing the Mobile Gender Gap Will Have Significant Benefits for Women, their Communities and Economies

By Nadia Jeffrie, Insights Manager, Connected Women – GSMA

The latest GSMA data shows that across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) progress on digital inclusion has stalled for the second year in a row. However, the benefits of addressing the wide and stubborn mobile gender gaps are significant. Here, we outline recommendations for stakeholders to reduce these gaps and the potential benefits of doing so.

In LMICs, mobile phones are the primary and often only way people get online, especially women. More than 3.4 billion people in LMICs now access the internet on a mobile phone, but significant gender gaps remain. Our GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023 highlights that while more women across LMICs are using mobile internet than ever before, their rate of adoption has slowed for the second year in a row. Now, men’s rate of adoption has also slowed compared to last year and as a result, the size of the mobile internet gender gap remains relatively unchanged. Women are 19% less likely than men to use mobile internet.

The slowdown in digital inclusion for women, and now also for men, and the fact that mobile gender gaps are not reducing is concerning and enabling women to access and use mobile phones is crucial. It will benefit not only women users but also their communities and economies more broadly.

Benefits of closing mobile gender gaps

Mobile and mobile internet can be life changing, providing access to critical information, services and opportunities from anywhere and once women use mobile the benefits are clear to them. In nine of the 10 countries surveyed by the GSMA in 2021, between 66% and 97% of female and male mobile owners reported that having a mobile phone helps with their day-to-day activities, makes them feel safer and gives them access to useful information they would not otherwise be able to easily obtain. Additionally, in most of the countries surveyed in 2022 women who use mobile internet were as likely as men to believe it has had a positive overall impact on their lives and to use it every day.

GSMA research has also found that closing the gender gap in mobile internet in LMICs could deliver an additional $700 billion in GDP growth over five years. In 2020 alone, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) estimated that the gender gap in internet use resulted in 32 LMICs missing out on $126 billion in GDP. The commercial opportunity for the private sector is also substantial. For example, the GSMA estimates that closing the gender gap in mobile ownership and use in LMICs by 2030 would generate $230 billion in additional revenue for the mobile industry.

Connectivity is also vital to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including those related to gender equality, health, education and financial inclusion.

Recommendations to address the mobile gender gap

To close the mobile internet gender gap by 2030 across LMICs an estimated 810 million women need to start using it – this is equivalent to 100 million women a year, on average. However, the unfortunate reality is that with the rate of digital inclusion slowing across LMICs, the mobile internet gender gap will not close on its own. If the gender gap remains unchanged, forecasts suggest that we will fall far short of the 810 million women needed. This challenge must be met head on by businesses but also by governments, the development community and other stakeholders.

The barriers that women face are complex and interlinked but there are four high-level recommendation that stakeholders should prioritise to close the mobile gender gap

  • Set gender targets and ensure senior leaders to champion the issue.
  • Address the various barriers women face to mobile internet adoption whilst considering the social and cultural barriers underpinning these. The top barriers are:
    • Affordability, particularly of internet-enabled handsets
    • Literacy and digital skills
    • Safety and security concerns
  • Improve the availability and quality of gender-disaggregated data. In order to address the mobile gender gap, we must understand the size of the issue.
  • Collaborate and partner with different stakeholders.

This list is not comprehensive, and actions to address structural barriers such as income gaps, education disparities and restrictive social norms that underpin the mobile gender gap, also need to be tackled. More detailed recommendations for mobile network operators and other organisations can be found here. For governments and policymakers, more detailed recommendations for closing the mobile gender gap can be found here.

This issue has never been more important as we move towards an increasingly connected world. When women thrive, societies, businesses and economies thrive.

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