GSM industry to tackle the mobile phone ‘gender gap’

8 Oct 2010

The global mobile phone industry is to tackle a perceived mobile phone “gender gap” and has launched a programme to bring the socio-economic benefits of mobile to women in developing markets worldwide.

The public-private partnership between the global mobile industry and international development community aims to halve the gender gap from 300 million and bring the power of mobile to more than 150 million women in developing countries within three years.

The initiative was formally launched by Rob Conway, CEO of the GSMA, with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Cherie Blair, founder, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.

The report, Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity, which was jointly created by the GSMA and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, shows that 300 million women in developing countries are missing out on what mobile can enable.

By extending the benefits of mobile phone ownership to more women, a host of social and economic goals can be achieved. There is a strong incentive for the private sector to lend its support, as closing the mobile phone gender gap represents a US$13bn incremental, annual revenue opportunity for mobile operators worldwide.

“Mobile phones are an indispensable personal, economic and development tool, but 300 million women are missing out on the mobile revolution,” said Blair.

“Helping more women access mobile technology means they can feel safer, improve their literacy, access vital health information and generate a better income. I am thrilled to be an mWomen champion. I know this programme will succeed because it has support from all sectors. It is only by working together in partnership that we can achieve results,” Blair said.

“I am delighted and honoured to be launching this important initiative with the backing of Secretary Clinton and Mrs Blair, and hope that this marks the beginning of close and continued efforts to empower and enable women and address the barriers to mobile phone access,” said Rob Conway, CEO and member of the board, GSMA.

“We know that mobile has proven to be a major driver for good in society, and in particular we know the ubiquity of mobile phones is bringing life-changing benefits to those most in need in the developing world.”

The GSMA mWomen Programme will address the key barriers to women’s access to mobile phones, including total cost of ownership, technical literacy, and cultural barriers to adoption.

The vision of the programme is that by increasing access to mobile connectivity and services, women living on less than US$2 per day will achieve a greater sense of security, independence, economic opportunity and connection with the world outside their homes. This in turn will lead to greater empowerment and control over their lives and those of their families.

The programme is aligned with the UN Millennium Development Goals, particularly MDG 3 on Gender Equity, and ECOSOC’s renewed focus on the need for greater investment in women and girls.

Industry commitment

The GSMA has already secured commitment to this programme from the following 20 leading global mobile companies operating in more than 115 developing countries: AT&T, Banglalink, Bharti Airtel, Cell C, Dialog, Digicel, IDEA Cellular, Maxis, Mobitel, Mobilink, MTN, France Telecom/Orange, Orascom, Roshan, Safaricom, SMART, Telenor, Telefónica, Uninor and Vodafone.

Nokia has also committed to the programme by piloting women’s information initiatives under its Ovi Life Tools service, focusing specifically on healthcare and education. Nokia will share with the GSMA mWomen Programme elements of its commissioned research into the barriers that may be preventing access to telecommunications services from a functional design, technological and affordability perspective. They will also work with other GSMA committed partners in exploring ways to reduce the total cost of ownership and thus increase accessibility amongst women.

“As the market leader with strong insights into the challenges faced by people in emerging markets, Nokia is particularly aware of the issues faced by women in getting access to quality, yet affordable, devices which also give them access to locally relevant and meaningful services that can improve their lives and the lives of their families,” said Mary McDowell, executive vice-president, Mobile Phones, Nokia.

“While much has been achieved, there is much more to be done and Nokia is committed to closing the gender gap.”

mWomen apps challenge

To support the programme, the GSMA has also launched the “mWomen Base of the Pyramid Apps Challenge”. Prizes include a US$10,000 for the winner of each tier and a chance for team members to attend the Mobile World Congress 2011.

The challenge is sponsored by Vodafone and aims to stimulate activity to meet the significant demand for innovative app design and to provide original and fresh customised app solutions targeted at the specific needs of women in developing countries.

This global competition is open to all and offers the opportunity to create the ultimate app for women in developing countries. This is a two-tier competition; Tier 1 will be an app for a low-end device or feature phone and Tier 2 will be an app for smartphones. 

The winners will be announced at the 2011 GSMA Mobile World Congress, the mobile industry’s premier event, hosted in Barcelona, at the official awards ceremony on Tuesday, 15 February 2011.

Lee Epting, content services director at Vodafone, said, “Vodafone has a great deal of experience and expertise in developing products and services for emerging markets, and I’m delighted that we have seized the opportunity to apply that to the mWomen Programme objectives.

“The Apps Challenge has been designed to stimulate innovative responses to the very real problem of how best to serve the 300 million women currently excluded from the social and personal empowerment of mobile telecommunications,” Epting said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years