The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the stark digital divide, and those without access to mobile phones and mobile internet are at risk of being left further behind.
While more than 3.2 billion people in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) now access the internet on a mobile phone, mobile ownership and use remains unequal.
According to Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA)’s Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022, mobile phones are valued by women as life-enhancing tools that make them feel more autonomous, connected and safe.
But 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 mobile phone or use mobile internet, suggesting that other issues are at play, such as discrimination and social norms.
Women are still seven per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone. In some countries, a significant proportion of smartphone owners do not use mobile internet, particularly women.
One year on, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately affect women. The commercial opportunity for the mobile industry is also substantial.
The study showed most mobile internet users in Kenya had cut their internet usage substantially over the course of the pandemic to make ends meet.
“Women have household chores, responsibilities, and they have very limited windows during the day which they have free and have access to a mobile phone where they can engage… It’s hard for (women) to start doing something, to actually take that step,” the report said, quoting an expert.
“But once they do it, they actually see more value and they’re more excited to continue engaging.” Many women are still unaware of the services mobile can provide. For instance, a quarter of women in Kenya are still unaware of mobile internet.
“I didn’t like the idea of selling the phone but I had no option. I sold it because I wanted to support my family,” said a Rift Valley resident who was not identified in the report. “My mother didn’t have stock in her shop so I wanted to help…so at least we could survive for about three weeks after selling that phone.”
In 2019, GSMA research estimated that closing the gender gap in mobile ownership and use in LMICs could deliver $140 billion (Sh16.38 trillion) in additional revenue to the mobile industry.