Technology for Good

Mobile Inclusion: Two Persistent Gaps

Mobile phones provide financial and social benefits, but gender and geography gaps persist.

Mobile Inclusion: Two Persistent Gaps

February 28, 2017

This week,  mobile industry representatives are convening in Barcelona for GSMA’s Mobile World Congress. The annual conference highlights innovation in the mobile industry and opportunities for growth in connectivity worldwide.

Their client base is growing in number each day. Mobile phone use has spiked dramatically in the past several years. GSMA estimates there are 3.7 billion unique mobile subscribers in the world today.

While mobile phones make staying connected easier, they also do more. In developing countries, they can serve as a bank, a source of information for small business owners or farmers, and a health tool.

However, when it comes to gender, wide disparities persist globally, particularly in South Asia, as well as parts of sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South and Central America.

Where gender gaps are the widest

The gender gap in mobile ownership is the widest in South Asia, where women are 38 percent less likely to own a mobile phone in comparison to men, according to a GSMA survey.  Pew Research found significant gender gaps in mobile phone ownership across sub-Saharan Africa with the exception of South Africa where an equal number of men and women own cell phones. The gap was widest in Uganda, where 77% of men own a mobile phone compared to 54% of Ugandan women do.

More and more people in emerging economies are using smartphones nonetheless, large gender gaps continue to persist as people move away from feature phones. Men are more likely to own a smartphone in many countries, including Mexico, Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana.

The gender gap in mobile banking

Mobile banking has provided an entrée into the economy for many who have opened savings accounts or started businesses. Receiving payments via mobile phone, for example, is important to productivity and economic security. But here, too, gaps are notable.

In 2013, just 1.6 percent of females aged 15 or older worldwide had a mobile banking account compared with 2.5 percent of males, according to the World Bank Group.

Source: World Bank, The Little Data Book on Gender, 2016

A Rural-Urban gap persists

Mobile internet is critical to lifting the rural poor into the middle class and to jumpstarting local economies.

Yet although mobile broadband networks reach 84 percent of the world, only 67 percent of the rural population is connected.

As the GSMA report, “Closing the Coverage Gap,” notes, citing the World Bank, mobile internet “has a higher positive economic impact than fixed-line broadband, particularly in developing countries, and that a 10 percent increase in mobile broadband penetration drives a 1.4 percent increase in GDP for low-to-middle income countries. “

Far-reaching impacts

In developing countries, internet access is opening up economic opportunities for many more people than in the past, including those who traditionally have been underserved, such as those in remote rural areas and women. People in these communities are gaining access to jobs beyond agriculture, and those in agricultural are gaining greater access to new markets, bolstering their incomes and economic security. These opportunities can be particularly beneficial for women, who make up 40 to 50 percent of the agricultural workforce globally.

The majority of women surveyed by GSMA said mobile phones help or would help them stay in touch with friends and family, save time and money, and make them feel safer. And mobile phone connections can also help connect women to wider opportunities in education, health and financial services.

Feature photo: ANNA ZIEMINSKI/AFP/Getty Images