The mobile gender gap in low-income countries

Mobile Gender Gap: During the Covid-19 pandemic many of us realized that connectivity is key. But many people all over the world, especially women, do not have access to even a mobile phone, not to mention computers. Since most of the people in low-income countries have access to the internet only via their mobile phones, it is crucial to talk about those who do not own these devices.

Could you imagine your life, today, without being able to reach out to your relatives or a doctor? For many of us, in the developed world, this is unimaginable in the 21st century. We often take these devices for granted, especially considering the fact that these are now essential.

While the developed world is now dreaming about virtual reality and is caught up in the world of cryptocurrencies and NFTs, some people are only dreaming of basic devices to be able to connect to their fellow humans and basic services that these devices enable. Just think about banking services, healthcare services and so on and so forth. Or would you be able to run a business without the networks you have access to whether they be human networks or service or supply chain networks? The answer is probably no. That is why it is essential to cover the issue of certain groups not having access to basic gadgets. These tools have the opportunity to transform the lives of people and they are currently disproportionately accessed by men and women, as well.

Covid-19 probably helped us refocus on fundamental issues as businesses have moved online. There are millions of women who don’t have access to mobile phones today and as such they are excluded from the financial system worldwide.

The Mobile Gender Gap Report of 2021 compiled by GSMA, which is a global organization unifying the mobile ecosystem, set out the aim to show people this mounting issue and the latest report particularly looked at whether Covid-19 influenced the mobile gender gap.

The good news is that Covid-19 has not had a significant impact on the gap and there have been improvements in certain regions, such as South-Asia. Across low- and middle-income countries 58% percent of women are now using the mobile internet.

In 2020, the report showed that women were 20% less likely to use the mobile internet than men. Last year, this number reduced to 15%. The gender gap has narrowed in South Asia from 50% to 36%. Overall the gender gap remained high, and in some regions there hasn’t been a big change.

If we want to close the gender gap we need to understand what actually prevents women from accessing mobile phones and mobile internet. Women are 15% less likely to own a smartphone and 7% less likely to own any kind of mobile phone. The gender gap related to mobile internet usage is also 15%, which is due to the fact that smartphones facilitate mobile internet use.

Some of those who owned mobile phones and were aware of the mobile internet faced other barriers. The lack of literacy and digital skills and affordability were the top reasons that prevented some users from connecting to the world via a mobile internet. Therefore, in order to reduce the gender gap, several issues need to be worked on including improving affordability and the literacy and digital skills of women.

Significant progress has been made over the past decades in narrowing the gender gap in different ways, but much remains to be done. The good news is that countries around the world seem to have accepted the imperative of gender equality. Decision-makers now recognise the benefits of economic growth and development through gender equality.

Andrea Nyilas is a Life Cycle Assessment and Sustainability Consultant and a Sustainability and Environmental journalist. She holds a Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences and Policy from Central European University, in addition to a Master of Arts degree in Economics from the Corvinus University of Budapest. She is particularly interested in circular economy, natural resource management, and waste reduction.