How To Connect The 1.7 Bn Women Without Cellphone

by CXOtoday News Desk    Jul 07, 2015

mobile users

At a time when the mobile revolution is already underway, GSMA’s 2015 report on Connected Women brings out some startling facts on gender gap and how women in developing countries still lag behind men as mobile phone users. The report states 3 billion people globally - in low- and middle-income countries do not own mobile phones, and 1.7 billion of them are estimated to be women.

Women on average are 14 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, which translates into 200 million fewer women than men owning mobile phones, the GSMA added. The difference is more pronounced in South Asia where the least amount of access is reported, where 38 percent of women are less likely to own a mobile phone.

The key barriers

Cost and network quality or coverage remain the top two barriers to mobile phone adoption for women, but one thing that surprised researchers was the issue of security and harassment surrounding phones in low and middle-income countries. Cell phones did make at least 68 percent of the female respondents feel safe — but it can also be the number three barrier behind cost and network quality for women phone owners. 

Women were concerned that cell phones would make them theft targets or could subject them to harassment from strangers, says the report author. However, the research states there are ways to address this issue, and there are tactical things companies can do, like, adding a free call blocking service to enabling remote top-ups, instead of having to visit a stall or an operator, that could increase a woman’s feeling of security.

But, it all comes back to the problem of affordability and to an extent awareness. Women across the globe tend to earn less money, and often aren’t involved or are not the ones purchasing the phones. The study shows that in India, 72 percent of males said they made the decisions to purchase their own phones, compared to 19 percent of women.

“When we look at the differences for mobile phone ownership for men and women, it’s a complex problem between economic and cultural issues… This has to do with both poverty and issues around social norms and how women interact,” says the study. 

Closing the gap

Mobile phones and access to mobile services and content provide significant social and economic benefits for the women themselves, as well as their families and local communities, states the GSMA study.

It claims that ensuring women in low- and middle-income countries own and use mobile phones on a par with men could unlock an estimated $170 billion market opportunity for the wireless industry in the next five years. Yet women in many regions are still being left behind due to a variety of reasons ranging from affordability to cultural barriers, and indicates that much more needs to be done

Opening a bank account via mobile, experts say, can help bridge the gender gap to financial services, where barriers for women often include lack of bank access, transportation and time. A mobile phone can address these problems by offering women reliable and remote access, it says.