Women are 20% less likely to use mobile internet than men, says report

Claire Sibthorpe GSMA NEW.jpg

According to the latest findings from the GSMA’s The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020, women are 20% less likely to use mobile internet than men.

The annual report surveyed 16,000 respondents from 15 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where 2.9 billion people now access the internet on their mobile phones.

Key findings include:

  • 54% of women in LMICs now use mobile internet and the gender gap is narrowing.

  • More than 300 million fewer women than men accessing the internet on a mobile, particularly in South Asia at where that gap is at around 51%.

  • Women across low- and middle-income countries are eight per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone.

  • Handset affordability remains the primary barrier to mobile phone ownership for men and women, with women in low and middle-income countries 20% less likely than men to own a smartphone.

  • Among mobile owners, women on average use a smaller range of services in all 15 countries included in the survey.

Capacity spoke to Claire Sibthorpe (pictured), head of connected women and connected society at the GSMA, about what these findings mean for the mobile industry and what we can do to improve them.

“There are a few things that standout from this report. One Is that the gender gap in mobile internet is narrowing, which is an interesting finding because the ownership in mobile owner remains roughly the same, but the internet gap is narrowing, which is positive,” says Sibthorpe.

“It is really driven by South Asia where we’ve seen big changes around things like affordability of handsets and other things.

“The other interesting thing is that every year we measure the number of barriers, so why is there a gender gap in mobile ownership and we’ve doing these reports since 2015 and what we’re seeing now is a change in the ranking of the barriers,” continues Sibthorpe.

“There’s a much higher awareness of the internet and people see it as more relevant, so those particular barriers have declined in importance as a barrier. In other words, the things that are preventing women from using the mobile internet is changing.”   

But Its not just internet connectivity being enabled by mobile devices. According to Sibthorpe the data shows that the people that didn’t have access to certain services be it health services or education services, they now, through mobile now have access to these services.

But what’s the cause of these usage gaps among LMICs? Its largely socio-economic Sibthorpe explains.

“Women often have lower levels of digital skills, they often for example will only use the apps that are installed in their phones they don’t have the skills or knowledge to know there are other apps and download them, they have lower incomes so they can’t afford to go on and use expensive apps.”

But its not all hopeless, in fact should operators refocus their attention to these statistics, there lies an opportunity to not only do good but increase their bottom line.

The reports states that ‘closing the gender gap in mobile internet use in LMICs could deliver an additional $700 billion in GDP growth, while closing the gender gap in mobile ownership and use in LMICs could deliver $140 billion in additional revenue to the mobile industry’.

“We launched The Connected Woman Commitment Initiative in 2015, where we invited operators to make formal commitments to reduce the gender gap in their global internet, global money customer-base and they made set targets for 2020, reporting to us every six months,” explains Sibthorpe.

“We have 39 operators across Africa, Asia and Latin America and most of them have successfully reduced their gap. They have now reached over 35 million new women, showing that if you actively think about gender and take specific actions to address their barriers, it makes a big difference. Women are half the market, this is absolutely a commercial play for them not a CSR opportunity.”