While mobile phone ownership and mobile internet use have increased significantly among women, there is still a persistent gender gap.
Women’s lower levels of mobile ownership and use not only reflect existing gender inequalities, but also threaten to compound them. If the mobile gender gap is not addressed, women risk being left behind as societies and economies digitise.
Differences in usage
In terms of basic mobile services, there tends to be relative parity between men and women in their overall use of voice calls in most countries, although the gender gap widens somewhat for SMS use. For instance, in India, a similar proportion of male and female mobile phone owners regularly make or receive phone calls, but just 50% of women use SMS at least once a month compared to 59% of men.
This could be due to women’s lower literacy levels, given the greater difficulty of using SMS with low levels of literacy. For mobile internet use, and many specific internet-based mobile use cases such as downloading apps, the gender gap typically widens further.
Women are unconnected
The unconnected are also disproportionately likely to be female, with women making up 60% of the unconnected population in LMICs (low and middle income countries) according to the Mobile Gender Gap Report 2019 by GSMA in association with UK aid and Sida. Most non-mobile owners are women for two main reasons:
- Women make up the majority of the demographic groups listed above, and barriers to mobile ownership for women are amplified by the following factors:
- They are less likely than men to be in paid employment, which limits their financial autonomy;
- When they are employed, they earn less than men on average; and
- They are less likely to be well educated, which translates into lower literacy levels.
- In many countries, prohibitive social norms can have an impact on women’s mobile ownership, for example:
- Making mobile ownership appear inappropriate for women; or
- Limiting women’s ability to visit retailers to top up their mobile phones.
Closing the gender gap in mobile ownership and use is important because of the impact it could have on the lives of women, their families and communities. It also has the potential to deliver significant commercial and economic returns, and help to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
If mobile operators could close the gender gap in mobile ownership and use in LMICs by 2023, this would provide an estimated additional $140 billion in revenue to the mobile industry over the next five years.