The GSMA Development Fund, in partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, undertook this study in order to understand women’s ownership of mobile phones in low and middle-income countries as well as the benefits mobile phones can bring to development. The report makes the case for empowering women through mobile technology.
The findings and case studies within this report are based on three sources of data: field research, in-depth interviews and third-party secondary data. Field research was conducted with more than 2,000 women surveyed across four low and middle-income countries on three continents (Bolivia, Egypt, India and Kenya). Approximately 40 in-depth interviews were conducted with executives in the mobile telecommunications industry, leaders of non-profit organisations and academics across a diverse set of low and middle-income countries. Third-party data sources such as the GSMA’s Wireless Intelligence database, United Nations statistics and the International Telecommunications Union’s (ITU) World Telecommunications Indicators 2008 database were accessed along with other secondary sources to gather and validate demographic and mobile phone usage statistics.
The research findings suggest steps that can increase women’s uptake of mobile phones; they also highlight questions that will require further research and collaboration. Developing a comprehensive plan for empowering women with mobile phones will require the involvement of all stakeholders from the private, non-profit and public sectors. Each stakeholder will need to take steps on their own, but also work together.
- Mobile phones have the capacity to empower the poor. Women are generally more affected by poverty and a woman in a low or middle-income country is 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. In order to close this gender gap, women need to be enabled to be better connected with family and friends, while helping them obtain paid-for work or run their own businesses.
- Greater usage of mobile phones by women would stimulate social and economic growth, while generating incremental subscriber and revenue growth for mobile operators.
- Mobile phone ownership provides distinct benefits to women, including improved access to educational, health, business and employment opportunities. Women surveyed across low and middle-income countries on three continents believe that a mobile phone helps them lead a more secure, connected and productive life.
- The mobile telecommunication industry should specifically target women in marketing strategies advertising the mobile phone as a tool for income-generation. Companies should understand and operate within the local culture. They also need to leverage alternative financing mechanisms and channels.
- Development communities should be promoting the mobile phone as an effective development tool which creates education, health, employment and business opportunities. They should help identify culturally relevant and acceptable ways of promoting mobile phone ownership amongst women, as well as create innovative programmes to increase the uptake of mobile phones amongst women. They can also help to leverage alternative financing mechanisms and channels.
- Policy makers need to create incentives for the development of mobile services that benefit women. They should also shift the tax burden away from the poorest in society of which women are the majority.
- All stakeholders need to collaborate for maximum impact. They should collectively designate high-profile champions of mobile phones for women. Further research is needed to develop deeper knowledge of the impact of mobile phones on women’s lives.