“Mobile inclusivity can impact women’s education,” says Jazz’s Ibrahim

“Mobile inclusivity can impact women’s education,” says Jazz’s Ibrahim

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The GSMA’s new data shows further slowdown in digital inclusion for women.

2023’s Mobile Gender Gap Report showed that Women are now 19% less likely than men to use mobile internet across Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), with the mobile internet gender gap even wider in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The most surprising finding was probably that this year, despite more people using mobile internet than ever before, it is not only women’s rate of mobile internet adoption that slowed in 2022, but also that of men’s,” one of the authors of the report, Nadia Jeffrie, connected women insights manager at GSMA told Capacity.

Jeffrie continued that GSMA somewhat expected women’s rate of adoption to slow amidst the global economic crisis that began last year but noted that digital inclusion stalling for everyone was a particularly surprising and concerning finding.

The report provides the latest figures and trends on gender gaps in mobile ownership, smartphone ownership and mobile internet in LMICs. It also features a review of the barriers to mobile ownership and mobile internet adoption and new data on men’s and women’s perceptions of the impact of mobile internet on their lives.

Why is closing the Mobile Internet Gender Gap Important

In all survey countries, between 53% and 91% of mobile internet users report a positive overall impact on their lives. Despite concerns associated with the internet, in almost all survey countries less than a fifth of mobile internet users reported a negative overall impact on their life.

While more people are using mobile internet than ever before, access is unequal and there are significant gender gaps. Women are still less likely than men to own a mobile phone and use key services, such as mobile internet and mobile money. The report states that this is particularly true for women in LMICs who are the most underserved, including those with low literacy, low incomes, who live in a rural area or who have a disability.

Mobile internet adoption can have widespread benefits to society, stimulating the economy as ecommerce and digital entrepreneurial activities become available. But it also has direct impacts on the lives of men and women, as it facilitates easier access to e-healthcare or online education.

The report found that a significant majority of female and male mobile owners reported that having a mobile phone helps with their day-to-day activities, makes them feel safer and gives them access to useful information they would not otherwise be able to easily obtain.

This suggests that once women use mobile internet, it improves their lives to a similar degree as men.

 A closer look at Pakistan

Of the surveyed countries, Pakistan has seen the biggest changes in its mobile gender gap over the last five years. In 2018 women in Pakistan were 71% less likely than men to use mobile internet, but in 2022 this gender gap narrowed to 38%.

Speaking at a launch event for the report, Aamir Ibrahim, the CEO of Pakistani MNO Jazz, commented that “mobile inclusivity can have a huge impact to level the playing field between urban/rural populations and educated and under-educated people”.

Jazz have made a public commitment to increase the number of women connected to Jazz’s network to 30% by 2025, from an 11% baseline in 2018. As part of their strategy to hit this goal, Jazz have appointed a dedicated diversity and inclusion executive that extends beyond implementing internal policies to look at products and services as well.

“When we’re designing tariffs and instalment plans for our products we think about this commitment. We’ve been conscious of the financial barriers to mobile internet adoption and have launched a low-cost handset that can connect people to WhatsApp and YouTube,” Ibrahim explained.

Despite Pakistan’s remarkable progress “there is still a lot of room for improvement, this significant shrinking of the gender gap cannot be understated in a country that has particularly restrictive social norms.” Jeffrie said.

In addition to affordability, perceived relevance, literacy skills and family approval were highlighted as barriers to entry for women into the mobile internet adoption in Pakistan. Jazz are keen to continue to raise awareness of the benefits to offset these challenges.

What action can the industry take?

In addition to collecting insights and data around the mobile gender gap, GSMA also publish recommendations on actions that numerous industry stakeholders can take to help close the gap.

These range from setting targets and getting senior leaders to champion the issue and addressing the various barriers women face to mobile internet adoption. Of these barriers, the report looks at affordability, literacy and digital skills, safety and security, but notes it is also important to consider the social and cultural barriers underpinning these.

“Improving the availability and quality of gender-disaggregated data is one of the most impactful measures the industry and government can take to drive better adoption” Jeffrie told us. “In order to address the mobile gender gap, we must understand the size of the issue.”

The GSMA also runs a Connected Women Commitment Partner Initiative. “This is where mobile network operators make commitments to increase their female customer base, and we support them to reach these targets. This initiative has already reached over 65 million women since 2016!” Jeffrie explains.

Jeffrie’s personal highlight working on the report has been working with the GSMA Intelligence team to model and forecast the global and regional gender gaps. “For the first time this year, we also were able to set specific targets for the number of women we need to reach to close the mobile internet gender gap by 2030. 100 million women must start using mobile internet each year until 2030 if we are to do so,” she said.

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