74m women unconnected as 13% lack access to telephone
• Sub-Saharan Africa has worst mobile gender gap
The wide gender gap continues to reduce women’s contribution to the global economy as there are still some 74 million unconnected women in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). 13 per cent of them are unlikely to own a mobile phone than men in the region.
The GSMA’s 2021 Mobile Gender Gap Report, which revealed this, showed that the mobile ownership rate for women in sub-Saharan Africa was 75 per cent in 2020, compared to 82 per cent in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and 83 per cent for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in general.
The report noted that overall for LMICs, the mobile gender gap shrunk over the past year, to 15 per cent from 19 per cent a year ago, despite the onset of COVID-19.
The improvement was mostly because of a record number of women in South Asia now using mobile Internet services, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for SSA, where things got worse over the past year.
GSMA said women in SSA are 37 per cent less likely to use the mobile Internet compared to men, slightly worse than 36 per cent in 2019, making it the region with the largest mobile gender gap globally.
In 2019 women in South Asia were 50 per cent less likely to use the mobile Internet; this reduced to 36 per cent in 2020. However, there are still 201 million unconnected women in the region, and women are 19 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone in South Asia.
According to the report, women are, however, more likely than men to access the Internet exclusively via mobile in almost all markets surveyed. In Kenya, for example, 63 per cent of male Internet users said they only used the Internet via a mobile device compared to 79 per cent of females. The GSMA said this reliance by women on mobile demonstrates the disproportionate benefit of increasing their access.
The Director-General of the GSMA, Mats Granryd, said if women are to become equal citizens in a more digital, post-COVID world, closing the mobile gender gap has never been more critical.
“I urge policymakers, the private sector and the international community to take note of the important findings laid out in the Mobile Gender Gap Report because only concerted action and collaboration will enable women and their families to reap the full benefits of connectivity,” Granryd added.
The GSMA report showed an estimated 112 million more women started using mobile Internet last year across LMICs. Nevertheless, there are still 234 million fewer women than men accessing mobile Internet in these countries.
Affordability, lack of literacy and digital skills, and lower awareness of mobile Internet are critical and common barriers for women. The underlying gender gap in mobile ownership also persists and is proving difficult to close.
Further analysis showed that even when women have the same levels of education, income, literacy and employment as men, they are still less likely to own a mobile phone or use mobile Internet, suggesting that other issues are at play, such as discrimination and social norms.
“The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women who have not only taken on more household responsibilities and educating their children from home but also suffered the loss of jobs and income. Despite this, the pandemic does not appear to have had a negative overall impact on women’s mobile ownership and use compared to men,” the report said.
For the first time since 2017, the gender gap in smartphone ownership has reduced across LMICs. In 2019, women were 20 per cent less likely to own a smartphone, but this dropped to 15 per cent in 2020.
According to GSMA, women and men who own a smartphone are also much more likely to be aware of mobile Internet and to use it than those who own a basic or feature phone. For example, in Nigeria, 93 per cent of female smartphone owners use mobile Internet, compared to only 12 per cent of women who own a feature phone.
The GSMA report found that when women own a smartphone, their adoption of mobile Internet and the range of mobile services they use is almost on par with male smartphone owners.
Findings from the report are based on results from over 9,000 face-to-face surveys across eight low- and middle-income countries, and subsequent modeling and analysis of the data.