Closing the Mobile Phone Gender Gap

Women are expected to account for two-thirds of new mobile phone subscriptions in emerging markets over the next 5 years.

The GSMA mWomen program operates under a cloud of disheartening data. Its research shows that because women in developing countries are often marginalized and miss out on education, they are deprived of benefits technology can provide. Enabling mobile phone ownership and more effective usage by women in emerging markets is key to this unique global public-private partnership between the worldwide mobile industry and the international development community.

Trina DasGupta GSMA mWomen

"What's important to realize is that in low- to middle-income countries there's a mobile phone gender gap. Women are 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone in these countries and that represents a gap of at least 300 million women," said Trina DasGupta.

Trina DasGupta served as program director of the organization, which was launched in 2010 by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She recently discussed how her program serves as a mobile-minded advocate for disadvantaged women and as a catalyst in the creation of life-enhancing mobile services such as healthcare, finance, education and entrepreneurship.

What’s the potential benefit of mobile technology to women in particular?

Mobile phones are fundamentally changing people’s lives, particularly for women. [With] a lot of the markets that we work in there is no other infrastructure. For a lot of people in the emerging markets the mobile phone is the first form of communication that they ever had. Having a mobile phone means being in touch with your family in the cities. It means being able to get money to your families faster. It means being able to just call a doctor.

We work with partners in Afghanistan where one out of two women die during childbirth, and just being able to call the doctor as opposed to having to go walk and find the doctor is the difference between life and death.

Through our research we know that 9 out of 10 women feel safer because they have a mobile phone. Forty-one percent of women report having greater access to income-generating opportunities. We fundamentally believe that the mobile phone is a platform that can create massive amounts of life enhancements and there are a lot of different ways we can do that.

What’s difference between men and women in terms of owning mobile devices?

What’s important to realize is that in low- to middle-income countries there’s a mobile phone gender gap. Women are 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone in these countries and that represents a gap of at least 300 million women. It may actually be much larger than that, but it’s also a $13 billion missed market opportunity. Basically, two-thirds of all the new subscribers over the next 5 years are going to be women.

There are barriers that women face in terms of mobile phone ownership. The first is cost. We have to look at affordability. We released research that shows women are either the second or third person in the household who will get a mobile phone. The first is usually the husband. A lot of times it’s the first-born son who’s the next one and then it might be the woman if we’re talking about mothers.

The second is technical literacy. Women in emerging markets aren’t necessarily comfortable with technology. They have lower education levels. Our latest research on women who are living on less than $2 a day [indicates that] 83 percent of them didn’t have secondary education. Just being able to work with the technology is something that they’re fearful of and something we need to look at in terms of doing more intuitive design, more user-centric design — just making it easier to get around based off their needs.

What about cultural barriers?

In a lot of communities the mobile phone represents empowerment, [so] that means changing gender dynamics. It’s not always appropriate for a woman to be able to contact those outside of her home. A lot of women report that a mobile phone makes her husband feel suspicious, that she might somehow be communicating with someone else. So when we’re looking at how to reach these women, we have to be culturally sensitive.

We have to think about things like point of sale. At certain places, women cannot walk into a store where it’s all male sales representatives. She can only speak with other women. So how do we look at our whole value chain to make sure that women are being able to access technology? We’ve learned that there is a gap; if you don’t intentionally include women in your business, they will be unintentionally left behind. We really have to look at what the opportunities are.

We have to understand our consumers better in emerging markets and meet their needs. We need to understand what the mobile phone means to them. That’s why we really emphasize the need for ethnographic, qualitative and quantitative research, so that when we meet that need there will be definitive commercial and social success for the industry. We also believe a lot of the innovations will come from the emerging markets because they have the greatest need and they’re moving very quickly to meet the demand of billions of people.

Closing the Mobile Phone Gender Gap

Women are expected to account for two-thirds of new mobile phone subscriptions in emerging markets over the next 5 years.

The GSMA mWomen program operates under a cloud of disheartening data. Its research shows that because women in developing countries are often marginalized and miss out on education, they are deprived of benefits technology can provide. Enabling mobile phone ownership and more effective usage by women in emerging markets is key to this unique global public-private partnership between the worldwide mobile industry and the international development community.

Trina DasGupta GSMA mWomen

"What's important to realize is that in low- to middle-income countries there's a mobile phone gender gap. Women are 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone in these countries and that represents a gap of at least 300 million women," said Trina DasGupta.

Trina DasGupta served as program director of the organization, which was launched in 2010 by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She recently discussed how her program serves as a mobile-minded advocate for disadvantaged women and as a catalyst in the creation of life-enhancing mobile services such as healthcare, finance, education and entrepreneurship.

What’s the potential benefit of mobile technology to women in particular?

Mobile phones are fundamentally changing people’s lives, particularly for women. [With] a lot of the markets that we work in there is no other infrastructure. For a lot of people in the emerging markets the mobile phone is the first form of communication that they ever had. Having a mobile phone means being in touch with your family in the cities. It means being able to get money to your families faster. It means being able to just call a doctor.

We work with partners in Afghanistan where one out of two women die during childbirth, and just being able to call the doctor as opposed to having to go walk and find the doctor is the difference between life and death.

Through our research we know that 9 out of 10 women feel safer because they have a mobile phone. Forty-one percent of women report having greater access to income-generating opportunities. We fundamentally believe that the mobile phone is a platform that can create massive amounts of life enhancements and there are a lot of different ways we can do that.

What’s difference between men and women in terms of owning mobile devices?

What’s important to realize is that in low- to middle-income countries there’s a mobile phone gender gap. Women are 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone in these countries and that represents a gap of at least 300 million women. It may actually be much larger than that, but it’s also a $13 billion missed market opportunity. Basically, two-thirds of all the new subscribers over the next 5 years are going to be women.

There are barriers that women face in terms of mobile phone ownership. The first is cost. We have to look at affordability. We released research that shows women are either the second or third person in the household who will get a mobile phone. The first is usually the husband. A lot of times it’s the first-born son who’s the next one and then it might be the woman if we’re talking about mothers.

The second is technical literacy. Women in emerging markets aren’t necessarily comfortable with technology. They have lower education levels. Our latest research on women who are living on less than $2 a day [indicates that] 83 percent of them didn’t have secondary education. Just being able to work with the technology is something that they’re fearful of and something we need to look at in terms of doing more intuitive design, more user-centric design — just making it easier to get around based off their needs.

What about cultural barriers?

In a lot of communities the mobile phone represents empowerment, [so] that means changing gender dynamics. It’s not always appropriate for a woman to be able to contact those outside of her home. A lot of women report that a mobile phone makes her husband feel suspicious, that she might somehow be communicating with someone else. So when we’re looking at how to reach these women, we have to be culturally sensitive.

We have to think about things like point of sale. At certain places, women cannot walk into a store where it’s all male sales representatives. She can only speak with other women. So how do we look at our whole value chain to make sure that women are being able to access technology? We’ve learned that there is a gap; if you don’t intentionally include women in your business, they will be unintentionally left behind. We really have to look at what the opportunities are.

We have to understand our consumers better in emerging markets and meet their needs. We need to understand what the mobile phone means to them. That’s why we really emphasize the need for ethnographic, qualitative and quantitative research, so that when we meet that need there will be definitive commercial and social success for the industry. We also believe a lot of the innovations will come from the emerging markets because they have the greatest need and they’re moving very quickly to meet the demand of billions of people.