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Over 100 million women will need to adopt mobile internet to close the digital gender gap by 2030

Story Highlights
  • Over 800 million women will need to adopt mobile internet in order to close the digital gender gap by 2030
  • 900 million women across LMICs still aren’t connected to mobile broadband, of which two-thirds live in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • There are still 440 million women across low- and middle-income countries who do not own a mobile phone and are difficult to reach.

The digital gender gap continues to widen with the latest report from GSMA indicating that over 800 million women will need to adopt mobile internet in order to close it.

The latest figures indicate that the gulf between the numbers of men and women using mobile internet will not be closed without an enhanced effort by a broad range of stakeholders. Progress in reducing the mobile internet gender gap remains stalled, with women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) 19% less likely than men to use it, equating to around 310 million fewer women than men.

If the gap remains unchanged, current forecasts suggest that only 360 million more women (less than half of the 800m target) are expected to start using mobile broadband by the end of the decade.

The Mobile Gender Gap Report analyses mobile ownership and mobile internet usage in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in Africa, Asia and Latin America. 

The report provides figures that uncover the scale of the mobile gender gap in each region, a review of the barriers to mobile ownership and internet adoption, and recommended actions for stakeholders, including policymakers, regulators, mobile operators, and NGOs. 

The report also found out that while almost two-thirds (61%) of women across LMICs are now using mobile internet, their rate of adoption has slowed for the second year in a row – with only 60 million women adopting mobile internet in 2022, versus 75 million in 2021. 900 million women across LMICs also still aren’t connected to mobile broadband, of which two-thirds live in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

It further notes that once women own a smartphone, their awareness and use of mobile internet is almost on par with men. Despite this, women are 17% less likely than men to own a smartphone in LMICs, translating into around 250 million fewer women than men.

According to the report, there are still 440 million women across LMICs who do not own a mobile phone and are difficult to reach.

“Mobile phones are the primary, and often only, source of internet access in LMICs, particularly in rural communities, so it’s alarming to see women’s digital inclusion slow for the second year in a row,” said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA. 

“Greater collaboration across all stakeholders in the digital community, from governments to operators, NGOs to internet companies, is needed to enable more women to access and use mobile internet and ultimately ensure women are not being left behind in an increasingly digital world.” Mats adds. 

For mobile users who are already aware of mobile internet, the report notes that the top-reported barriers to adoption are still affordability (primarily of handsets), literacy and digital skills, and safety and security concerns. The good thing is that majority of men and women who use mobile internet believe it has an overall positive impact on their lives and use it every day, with little difference between women and men.

In 2016, the GSMA launched the GSMA Connected Women Commitment initiative, to support mobile operators reduce the gender gap in the customer base of their mobile internet or mobile money services. Since its inception, over 40 mobile operators across LMICs have made formal commitments to reduce the gender gap, collectively reaching over 65 million additional women, delivering significant socio-economic benefits to underserved women, their communities, and the economy.

Mobile network operators (MNOs) have been able to narrow the mobile gender gap by taking informed, targeted actions to address women’s needs and the barriers they face to mobile internet adoption and use. But to fully address the issue, and achieve meaningful progress, will require increased focus and targeted action from all stakeholders, including MNOs, internet companies, policymakers and regulators, and the development community.

The GSMA report is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) via the GSMA Mobile for Development Foundation.

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Nixon Kanali

Tech journalist based in Nairobi. I track and report on tech and African startups. Founder and Editor of TechTrends Media. Nixon is also the East African tech editor for Africa Business Communities. Send tips to nkanali@techtrendske.co.ke.

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