Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

Digital Inclusion

Pandemic made mobile gender gap worse – GSMA

Article Image
The mobile gender gap increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and women in Africa are still hugely impacted. That's according to stats from the GSMA as part of a preview of its Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022 which is due to be released in June 2022.

Globally, women are now 16% less likely than men to use mobile Internet across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) – many of which are on the African continent. By comparison, last year this gender gap was 15%, and prior to that it had reduced every year from 25% in 2017.

"While mobile connectivity has been expanding quickly, it has not been expanding equally and women are being left behind in an increasingly connected world. The pandemic has really highlighted this stark digital divide which threatens to exacerbate the inequalities women already experience," said Claire Sibthorpe, head of Connected Women and Connected Society at GSMA, in a blog post ahead of the full report.

Last year's Mobile Gender Gap Report showed there were 74 million unconnected women in sub-Saharan Africa, and women in the region were 13% less likely to own a mobile phone than men.

Trending down

The GSMA said women in particular have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic, and mobile has provided them with a means to mitigate many of the negative impacts by enabling ongoing access to information, health care, education and income-generating opportunities.

"Last year we saw early signs in some countries that the pandemic may be disproportionately negatively impacting women's handset ownership. This new data is alarming and suggests that progress in addressing the mobile Internet gender gap is stalling, and in some cases reversing, at a time when access to mobile and the Internet is most critical," Sibthorpe said.

She said that owning a smartphone is also critical to being able to use the Internet, and when a woman owns a smartphone she is almost as likely as a man to use mobile Internet and a similar range of services.

"Similar to the story we have seen in mobile Internet use, the gender gap in smartphone ownership had been reducing year on year across LMICs – from 20% in 2017 to 16% in 2020 – but over the last year this has reversed. Women are currently 18% less likely than men to own a smartphone," Sibthorpe added.

The underlying gender gap in mobile ownership as a whole remains largely unchanged with women estimated to be 7% less likely than men to own a mobile phone across LMICs, highlighting that those who still do not have a mobile phone are proving difficult to reach.

"This is a lost opportunity, since these people are not only predominantly women, but also disproportionately rural, less educated and lower income, with arguably the most to gain from being connected.

"These gender gaps also exist in women’s access to and use of mobile money services, which are helping drive financial inclusion for women and can increase their economic independence and strengthen their role as financial decision-makers. It is important to also ensure that women can access and use mobile money on par with men," she said.

Targeted action

"The mobile gender gap is not going to close on its own, but we know that with informed, targeted action it is possible to make a difference," Sibthorpe added.

Progress is being made by the GSMA Connected Women Commitment Initiative where mobile operators have made formal commitments to accelerate digital and financial inclusion for women across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Since 2016, 40 mobile operators have made formal commitments to reduce the gender gap in their mobile Internet and mobile money customer base. So far, they have collectively reached over 55 million additional women with mobile Internet and mobile money services.

Related posts:

*Top image source: GSMA blog post.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

Innovation hub


Interview: Qualcomm execs on mentorship for African startups

Qualcomm Technology VP for Engineering, Sudeepto Roy, and Elizabeth Migwalla, VP for Government Affairs, join Connecting Africa for a video interview about Qualcomm's Make in Africa Mentorship Program.


Hot startup of the month: Pan-African fintech KamaPay

This month's hot startup is pan-African fintech KamaPay, which helps individuals and businesses make cross-border payments on the continent.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Sponsored video

More videos

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Flash poll

All polls

Africa Tech Perspectives


Deep dive into East Africa's tech startup ecosystem

New survey reveals a lack of access to investors, reliance on international VCs and global recession trends as the biggest barriers for East African tech startups to access funds.


Challenges and opportunities for women's tech careers

A new survey reveals that COVID-19, the cost-of-living crisis, skills shortages and a lack of mentorship have negatively affected women's career development over the past two years.


Survey: Opportunities for Women in Tech

Take our new survey for women across Asia, Europe and Africa looking at the biggest challenges and opportunities for women-led enterprises and trends in tech careers for women.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Upcoming events

London Tech Week
June 13-16, 2023
Queen Elizabeth II Centre, Broad Sanctuary, London SW1P 3EE
Cybertech Africa 2023
August 1-2, 2023
Kigali Convention Center, Kigali, Rwanda
Africa Tech Festival, Home of AfricaCom and AfricaTech
November 13-16, 2023
CTICC, Cape Town
More Upcoming events

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: February 2023

By Omdia Analysts

In February 2023 key events in the Middle East and Africa included a major Internet project for Africa's underserved by Liquid Intelligent Technologies and Microsoft as well as a 5G launch in Tanzania – that and more in this month's Omdia View.


Omdia View: July 2022

By Omdia Analysts

Kenya and Zambia move towards 5G with new spectrum allocations while Tunisie Telecom plans to shut down its 3G network - that and more in this month's Omdia View.

More Guest Perspectives

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up