In a recent report by GSMA, the Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023, it’s predicted that 800 million women will need to adopt mobile internet to close the digital gender gap by 2030 across low and middle income countries (LMICs).
In these countries, more men have access to mobile internet than women due to various barriers. The Head of Connected Women at GSMA, Claire Sibthorpe, talks about these barriers and what needs to be done to close the digital gender gap by 2030.
“The mobile gender gap is driven by a range of social, economic and cultural factors, which result in women experiencing barriers to mobile ownership and use more acutely than men. Across low- and middle-income countries, the key barriers preventing women’s use of mobile internet are mostly affordability, literacy in digital skills, and awareness,” Claire said in an interview.
From the report, affordability of handsets is the top reported barrier to mobile internet adoption. In eight of the 12 surveyed countries, handset cost was the single most important reason preventing both male and female mobile users who are already aware of mobile internet from adopting it. Women’s lower income and autonomy over household finances mean that handsets are typically less affordable for them than men.
Literacy and digital skills remain one of the top barriers to mobile internet adoption in LMICs. Women’s lower levels of education and confidence using mobile means that they are more likely than men to report this as a barrier.
“Understanding and addressing these barriers is essential if we are to drive digital inclusion and close the substantial and stubborn gender gaps,” Claire explains, “We must work closely with other industry players, policymakers, NGOs and the development community to overcome these challenges, to address women’s needs and the barriers they face and ensure they reap the full benefits of being connected.”
The data collected in the Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023 is a clear indication that action is essential to ensure no one is left behind in an increasingly digital world. As the rate of digital inclusion is slowing across low- and middle-income countries, more effort and focus are needed to address the gap and make sure women and their communities can access and make use of mobile technology.
There are 900 million women in low- and middle-income countries who are still not using mobile internet. Almost two-thirds of them live in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The women in these regions remain the least likely to use mobile internet compared to men, with gender gaps of 41% and 36%, respectively.
The most significant barrier preventing women from owning a handset and connecting to the internet is affordability, but literacy and digital skills are also highly ranked as key barriers in the region for women. Other barriers include safety and security concerns and lack of perceived relevance. Millions more women than men face these barriers because they are offline. Women also tend to experience these barriers more acutely due to social norms and structural inequalities, such as lower education and income.
“Across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, we need greater collaboration from all stakeholders in the digital community, from governments to operators, NGOs to internet companies, to address these complex socio-economic barriers that women face to accessing and using mobile internet,” she said.