Mobile internet benefits men more than women

According to a new analysis from the GSMA, the global organization for the mobile ecosystem, released on Wednesday.

The GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022 shows that after years of progress towards equal digital inclusion for women in LMICs, only 59 million additional women in LMICs started using mobile internet in 2021, compared to 110 million in 2020.

This recent slowdown in the growth of mobile internet adoption by women in LMICs contrasts with the still high growth rates among men. This is the first time that GSMA data has recorded such a negative trend.

In the LITIs, the report shows that the gender gap in mobile internet has narrowed each year from 2017 to 2020, from 25% to 15%. However, GSMA data from 2021 suggests that momentum has been lost. Women are now 16% less likely than men to use mobile internet, which equates to 264 million fewer women than men using mobile internet.

In South Asia, traditionally the region with the largest mobile gender gap, this rebound has been more marked. The gender gap in mobile internet had narrowed significantly from 67% in 2017 to 36% in 2020, but has now widened to 41%.

GSMA Chief Executive Mats Granryd said: “For decades, the mobile internet has transformed the lives of women around the world, especially in LMICs. But the disturbing statistics in our report show that much more needs to be done to prevent women from being left behind in the digital economy.

In India, the sample size was 2,000 and the data was collected between September and November 2021. A GSMA spokesperson told FE that despite some of the lowest handset and data costs in world, mobile Internet may be unaffordable for some people. “There are also social norms that prohibit women from using cell phones. If women and men had similar levels of education and income, men are more likely to have and use mobile phones,” the spokesperson said.

These findings are particularly significant, as mobile remains the primary means for women to access the internet in LMICs, and the benefits of internet connectivity can be life-changing. In particular, the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of mobile phones as a valuable tool to help women access health information, stay in touch with family during lockdowns, pursue opportunities income-generating activities and to access government support.

Industry action

The GSMA launched the Connected Women Commitment initiative in 2016 to catalyze action to close the mobile gender gap. During this period, more than 40 mobile operators in Africa, Asia and Latin America have made formal commitments to accelerate the digital and financial inclusion of women. These operators have already reached more than 55 million additional women with mobile internet or mobile money services.

However, mobile operators cannot work in isolation. The mobile gender gap is an important global issue, which requires the attention of all stakeholders to ensure that women and their families can take full advantage of connectivity. In total, only 60% of women in the PRITIs now use mobile internet, compared to 71% of men.

The GSMA’s annual Mobile Gender Gap Report plays an important role in assessing the mobile gender gap and generating regional and national data to draw attention to this issue, as well as to provide key evidence to inform stakeholder action.

This year’s findings demonstrate the importance of continuing to collect data to understand the problem and address key barriers preventing women from accessing and benefiting from mobile internet, including affordability, digital skills and social norms that hinder women’s access to and use of mobile technology.

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