How the mobile phone could contribute to gender equality | The new times

One of the recommendations of the Commonwealth Women’s Forum at the just-concluded CHOGM meeting in Kigali highlighted the need to collect regular and disaggregated data to identify gaps and mark progress.

It was emphasized that this must be in all spheres that inhabit women and girls, from ending gender-based violence and leadership to economic empowerment and the digital economy.

It’s easy to see why data is important. Good data and statistical information helps not only in policy-making, but also in decision-making by indicating where investment is most needed and by engaging all actors, from community to national and international levels.

As often happens, however, data from one sector helps illuminate a myriad of interconnected issues. So it was with the Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022 which was coincidentally released earlier this month just before CHOGM Kigali.

The report, by the global association unifying mobile and ecosystems (GSMA), examines how women’s mobile access and usage is changing in low- and middle-income (LMIC) countries – many of which are members Commonwealth – and how efforts to reach women with mobile should be targeted.

It is no coincidence that many of the issues discussed at the Commonwealth Women’s Forum also feature in the GSMA’s analysis. It is that the problems remain uniform even if progress has been made.

Focusing on the mobile phone, it therefore takes note of the Covid-19 pandemic and economic recovery, and how to ensure that gender equality gains are not lost and existing inequalities don’t get worse.

The analysis notes how, over the past two years, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of mobile and mobile internet access.

Mobile phones have enabled people to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the pandemic by providing continued access to information, healthcare, education, e-commerce, financial services and income-generating opportunities .

Yet the pandemic has also exposed the deep digital divide, and those without access to cellphones and mobile internet risk being left even further behind.

There is, however, good news. Considering both genders, the mobile phone is the primary means for men and women to access the internet in LMICs, accounting for 85% of broadband connections in 2021.

According to the report, once women own a smartphone, their knowledge and use of mobile internet is almost equivalent to that of men.

For women, however, phones are seen as life-enhancing tools that make them feel more empowered, connected and secure.

Mobile also gives access to important information that helps them in their daily lives and that they would not have received otherwise.

Eighty-four percent of women in LMICs now own a mobile phone and 60 percent use mobile internet.

This last finding predicts that mobile ownership and use will remain unequal. In LMICs, women are even less likely than men to have access to mobile phones and to use mobile internet, mobile money and other mobile services.

This is especially true for women who are the most underserved, including those with low literacy, low income, who live in rural areas or who have a disability.

Analysis shows that even when women have the same levels of education, income, literacy and employment as men, they are still less likely to own a cellphone or use mobile internet.

Even so, among those familiar with mobile internet, the top barriers to using mobile internet reported are still digital literacy and skills, affordability (mainly of handsets), and safety and security.

Among low-income groups, there is evidence that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has made handsets and mobile internet even less affordable and has affected access to smartphones and mobile phone usage. mobile internet.

Social norms also continue to play an important role. In all the countries studied, women were less likely than men to have chosen their mobile phone model even when they paid for it themselves.

What these results show is that if the mobile phone gender gap were closed, much would be accomplished by adding to the progress already made in gender equality and women’s empowerment. It is entirely possible, as can be seen in the Connect Rwanda initiative to put a mobile phone in the hands of women and other marginalized groups.

But it requires a concerted effort, including delivering on the commitments agreed at the Commonwealth Women’s Forum. Then, as envisioned at the forum, economic and social change where women, especially in technology and innovation, will be the watchwords, may soon become a reality.


Casey J. Nelson