A Call for Connectivity
The gender gap in access to mobile phones around the world, specifically in South Asia, is severely limiting the access of women to equitable development, including most notably employment, education and health services. Without a substantive and substantial campaign and coordinated effort women are at risk at being left behind.
A wide gender gap exists in access to mobile phones and mobile technologies around the world, specifically pronounced in low-income countries. 197 million fewer women own mobile phones than men in low income countries. Particularly in South Asia, women are 28% less likely to own a mobile than men. SDG 5, focused on achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, also addresses solving this gap and ‘increasing the proportion of individuals who own a mobile telephone by sex’ as part of its indicators, namely SDG5B. Key stakeholders include GSMA, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNESCO and others.
This issue manifests in different forms for women, not just limiting them from accessing mobile phones. More so, it impedes access to many vital platforms, such as employment, financial support, educational opportunities, health services, and peace and justice institutions. In fact, research has shown that decreasing the mobile gender gap could add $700 billion (0.7% increase) in GDP growth by 2023 in low middle-income countries alone.
Women face this gender gap due to three key factors: affordability, e-literacy and education, and often-entrenched social contexts and related norms towards women and mobile use, norms that are on their own, gender-based biases.
If no action is taken toward this issue, women are likely to continue facing limitations and resulting inequalities. Given the centrality of mobile phones in this day and age, women with no access to this simple tool are left missing out on a vital service that not only provides them with basic social facilities, but also access to other significant rights.
The Way Forward
Building on the existing research, it is important to strategically employ information available and work on implementing actionable solutions by bringing in the key stakeholders to increase global awareness and coordination on the mobile gender gap. Key stakeholders must be involved, including mobile phone providers and mobile network operators, key policy decision makers across the private and social sectors such as foundations and UN agencies, and governmental support in the critical areas of concern. This is a critical next step to closing the gender mobile gap and improving other inequalities women experience by 2030.
Sources: GSMA 2019; Harvard University EPoD; Indian Express; Research ICT Africa; UNESCO