Mobile Internet gender gap proves difficult to close

Read time 5min 30sec

While the world recently commemorated International Women’s Day, new data shows women remain at a disadvantage in terms of mobile ownership and mobile Internet use.

Now in its third year, the GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020 shows that despite growing awareness of mobile Internet for both men and women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), mobile access and use remain unequal.

The mobile Internet gender gap in LMICs has dropped from 27% in 2017 to 20% presently, but still 300 million fewer women than men access the Internet on a mobile phone.

In terms of mobile ownership, the situation remains largely unchanged as well, the report notes.

The research found women across these territories are 8% less likely than men to own a mobile phone, which translates into 165 million fewer women than men owning a mobile.

“Despite the growing importance of connectivity, there is still a considerable mobile gender gap in 2020,” it reads.

“Across LMICs, women are 8% less likely than men to own a mobile phone. While this is a slight reduction from the 10% gender gap in previous years, it is proving a difficult gap to close.

“The gap widens significantly for mobile Internet use. Women are still 20% less likely than men to use the Internet on a mobile phone. However, some progress has been made.

“Over the three years studied, the mobile Internet gender gap has narrowed from 27%, bringing an additional 236 million women online.”

According to the mobile industry body, its findings are sourced from the annual GSMA Intelligence Consumer Survey, which in 2019 had over 16 000 respondents from 15 LMICs.

Further, it states that analysis of other research and data from the GSMA, and a range of other organisations that investigate and track the mobile gender gap, also inform the findings of this report.

The report highlights South Asia has the widest mobile Internet gender gap at 51%, a 16% reduction since 2017. It is closely followed by Sub-Saharan Africa, which has the second largest gender gap at 37%.

“South Asia has driven most of the reductions in the mobile Internet gender gap. Over 78 million more women have come online in South Asia in the last three years, while in other regions, most notably Sub-Saharan Africa, considerably less progress has been made.”

The report found five key barriers to mobile phone ownership for women, with handset affordability remaining the primary barrier. Other barriers include literacy and skills, safety and security, and the family not approving.

The GSMA defines mobile ownership as having sole or main use of a SIM card or a mobile phone that does not require a SIM, and using it at least once a month.

Data from the report shows the gender gap in mobile ownership for Sub-Saharan Africa has remained unchanged at 13% from 2017 to 2019.

“The first stage in the mobile Internet user journey is mobile ownership. Across LMICs, 82% of women now own a mobile phone. Despite a perception that mobile ownership is near universal, over 390 million women in LMICs remain unconnected.

“Growth in mobile ownership among women has slowed considerably, remaining nearly constant since 2017.

“The mobile ownership gender gap varies significantly between regions. It remains pronounced in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, but is considerably smaller in the more developed regions of Latin America, Europe and Central Asia, and East Asia and Pacific. In fact, in several countries in these regions, the rate of mobile ownership is slightly higher for women than men.”

Turning to mobile Internet use, which is defined as having used the Internet on a mobile phone at least once in the last three months, the report lists literacy and skills, affordability, safety and security, as well as relevance as key barriers.

From a regional standpoint, the mobile Internet use gender gap in Sub-Saharan Africa has remained at 37% and 38% between the 2017 to 2019 period.

“In every region except Latin America, the gender gap in mobile Internet use is wider than the gender gap in mobile ownership. As in previous years, the gender gap is widest in South Asia by a substantial margin (51%) followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (37%).

“While gender inequality in mobile Internet use is greatest in South Asia, the region has also made the most progress. Women in South Asia access mobile Internet at almost the same rate as women in Sub-Saharan Africa (34% versus 35%), whereas in 2017 the rate of mobile Internet use among women in South Asia was seven percentage points lower than Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Critical uptake

According to the report, the gender gap in smartphone ownership is even more significant in the context of the mobile Internet user journey.

“In all countries surveyed for this report, over 93% of smartphone owners were aware of mobile Internet. However, among those who did not own smartphones, awareness levels ranged from 37% in Indonesia to 82% in Algeria.

“Moreover, uptake of mobile Internet was over 80% among smartphone owners in every market except Bangladesh. These factors translate into far higher levels of mobile use for smartphone owners.”

The GSMA report recommends that all stakeholders work to close the mobile gender gap.

“As mobile is the primary way most people in LMICs access the Internet, closing the mobile gender gap is becoming increasingly urgent as the importance of the Internet grows. Promising progress is being made, but continued, concerted action is critical.”

It makes the following recommendations:

  • Work to understand women’s needs and barriers to mobile ownership and use in your market, and design targeted interventions to address these barriers. Consider the effect of social norms on women in the design and implementation of policies, products and services.
  • Improve the quality and availability of gender-disaggregated data to set targets, create strategies and track progress.
  • Ensure considerations of women and gender equality are integrated in strategies and plans, including setting specific gender-equity targets for reaching women and tracking their progress.
  • Consult and involve women users in product, service and policy design and implementation, including testing and piloting with women, and proactively tailoring marketing and distribution approaches to women.

* Graphics courtesy of GSMA Intelligence.

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