More than 1.7bn women in the world today do not own a mobile phone

4 Mar 2015

Anne Bouverot, director general, GSM Association

More than 1.7bn females in low- and middle-income countries do not own mobile phones and women on average are 14pc less likely to own a phone than men, research revealed at the Mobile World Congress shows.

With women 14pc less likely to own a mobile device than men, this creates a gender gap of 200m fewer women than men owning mobile phones.

In particular, women in South Asia are 38pc less likely to own a phone than men, highlighting that the gender gap in mobile phone ownership is wider in certain parts of the world. Interestingly, even when women own mobile phones, there is a significant disparity in mobile phone usage, with women using phones less frequently than men, especially for more sophisticated services, such as mobile internet.

In most countries surveyed, fewer women than men who own phones report using messaging and data services beyond voice.

Time, money and independence

Of the thousands of women interviewed in this report across 11 countries, including both mobile phone owners and non-owners:

  • At least 89pc said mobile phones help or would help them stay in touch with friends and family
  • Around 74pc said mobile phones do or would save time
  • About 68pc of women reported they feel or would feel safer with a mobile phone
  • At least 58pc said they would feel or felt more autonomous and independent
  • At least 60pc of women in 10 out of the 11 countries said mobile phone ownership saves or would save them money, and at least 60pc of women in every country claimed that a mobile phone helps or would help make running errands either more convenient or less expensive

The top 5 barriers to women owning and using mobile phones from a customer perspective are cost; network quality and coverage; security and harassment via mobile; operator or agent trust; and technical literacy and confidence issues.

Social norms and disparities between men and women in terms of education and income influence women’s access to and use of mobile technology, and often contribute to women experiencing barriers to mobile phone ownership and use more acutely than men.

The study comes five years after the first such benchmarking study was carried out by the GSMA (the organisation behind Mobile World Congress).

It comes after the GSMA predicted this week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that an additional 1bn people will become mobile subscribers over the next five years.

“The ubiquity and affordability of mobile presents us with the unprecedented opportunity to improve and enhance social and economic development, however, as our study shows, women in particular tend to be left behind as owners of mobile phones and as consumers of mobile services,” said Anne Bouverot, director-general, GSMA.

“By addressing the gender gap in mobile phone ownership and use, we will deliver substantial benefits for women, the mobile industry and the broader economy.”

Unlocking a US$170bn market opportunity

The report found that achieving parity in ownership and use between men and women in low- and middle-income countries could bring socio-economic benefits, such as the availability of new education and employment opportunities, to an additional 200m women; unlock an estimated US$170bn market opportunity for the mobile industry by 2020; and deliver a positive economic contribution to society.

“Taken together, our research indicates that the gender gap in mobile ownership and use is driven by a complex set of socio-economic and cultural barriers that negatively affect women,” Bouverot said.

“Without targeted intervention from the mobile industry, policy-makers and other stakeholders, the gender gap in ownership and use is unlikely to close naturally on its own.”

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