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Digital Inclusion

Women spend less on mobile services than men – GSMA

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Female mobile phone owners spend 18% less on mobile services than male mobile owners in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). That's according to the Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023 published by the GSMA on Wednesday.

This gap is widest in sub-Saharan Africa, at 32%, where mobile data and services are least affordable, the GSMA said.

"The gender gap in mobile services spending is significant in every region even when other mobile gender gaps are relatively low. For example, in Latin America and the Caribbean, the mobile ownership gender gap is 2%, but the gender gap in spending is 20%," the report's authors said.

Gender gaps in mobile services spending across LMICs, by region
(Source: Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023)

"Given women's lower levels of employment, income and financial autonomy, this gender gap in spending is perhaps unsurprising. However, it emphasises that even when women own a mobile phone, their usage is not comparable to men. Addressing this gap will require tackling both the structural inequalities that limit women's income and employment, as well as the barriers women face to using mobile services, which would include making mobile services more affordable," the GSMA added.

It said it is important to understand this spending gap and ensure that women can use mobile services to the same extent as men.

Closing this gap is also an important commercial opportunity for the mobile industry.

"Of the estimated $230 billion that the mobile industry would see if the mobile gender gap closed by 2030, approximately 85% (about $195 billion) would come from closing the gender gap in mobile services spending alone. This indicates that the vast majority would be derived from closing the gender gap in mobile use," the report said.

Gender inequality remains

Overall, more women in LMICs are using mobile Internet than ever before, but their rate of adoption has slowed for the second year in a row and a significant gender gap remains.

Globally, women are still 19% less likely than men to use mobile Internet. Of the 900 million women who are still not using it, almost two-thirds live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Global statistics on the gender gap in low- and middle-income countries
(Source: Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023)

In 2022, there was no notable change in any regional gender gaps in mobile ownership or mobile Internet. Women are 41% less likely than men to use mobile internet in South Asia and 36% less likely than men to do so in sub-Saharan Africa.

Findings from the 2023 report are based on results from over 13,800 face-to-face surveys during 2022 across 12 low- and middle-income countries, and subsequent modeling and analysis of the survey data. This is the sixth edition of the annual Mobile Gender Gap Report from the GSMA.

In Africa the specific countries surveyed were Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal.

"This slowdown in digital inclusion and the fact that mobile gender gaps are not reducing is concerning as we move to an increasingly connected world," the authors said.

Overall the gender gap in mobile Internet has come down from 25% in 2017, to its lowest level of 15% in 2020, and has risen again in 2022 to 19%.

Gender gap in mobile Internet usage 2017-2022
(Source: Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023)

In sub-Saharan Africa the gender gap in mobile Internet has risen from 35% in 2017 to 36% in 2022; while in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) it has dropped from 20% in 2017 to 15% in 2022.

"It's clear that more is needed to close the mobile Internet gender gap. In fact, in order to close this gap by 2030, we currently estimated 810 million women need to adopt it by then. This is equivalent to an average of 100 million women each year," said Nadia Jeffrie, insights manager for Connected Women at GSMA and lead author of the report, speaking at an online event on Wednesday.

However, the outlook is bleak if things remain as they are, and forecasts suggest that only 360 million more women will adopt mobile Internet by 2030 at current adoption rates.

The survey showed that more women had reduced their use of mobile Internet in 2022, compared to men, especially those who live in rural areas and are less educated.

Across all survey countries, women also tend to use their mobile phones for a narrower range of activities and use mobile Internet less regularly than men.

Mobile ownership gap

Across LMICs, 81% of women now own a mobile phone compared to 87% of men. Even though 60 million additional women owned one in 2022, 440 million still do not (compared to 290 million men).

Growth in mobile ownership for both women and men has remained relatively flat and the gender gap has seen little change as a result. Women are currently 7% less likely than men to own a mobile phone, which translates into 130 million fewer women than men owning one.

Jeffrie said this highlights that those who still don't have a mobile phone are proving difficult to reach.

In sub-Saharan Africa women are 13% less likely than men to own a mobile phone, and 95 million women in the region still do not own a mobile phone. In MENA the mobile ownership gap is 9% and 25 million women in the region do not own a mobile phone.

Gender gap in mobile ownership in LMICs, by region
(Source: Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023)

Of all the survey countries, Pakistan has the widest gap in mobile ownership at 35%, followed by Ethiopia at 27%.

"It is of course important as well, to look at what type of handset people own, as smartphone is typically more likely to use mobile Internet. Women still own more basic handsets than men and are 17% less likely than men to own a smartphone," Jeffrie added.

Gender gap in mobile ownership and smartphone ownership, by region
(Source: Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023)

The gender gap in smartphone ownership has also stalled for the second year in a row, and the 17% gap translates into around 250 million fewer women than men owning a smartphone. In sub-Saharan Africa the smartphone ownership gap is 28% while in MENA it's 14%.

"Women are not a homogeneous group, however, and certain women are more likely to be digitally excluded. Women who have low literacy levels, are unemployed, have low incomes, live in a rural area, are older than 55 or have a disability are even less likely to own a mobile phone," the research found.

Barriers to access and ownership

With progress in driving digital inclusion slowing and a substantial, stubborn gender gap in mobile Internet adoption, the GSMA said it is critical to understand the barriers people face once they become aware of mobile Internet.

Across survey countries, the top barrier to mobile Internet adoption for male and female respondents was affordability, particularly of Internet-enabled handsets.

Top barriers to mobile Internet adoption in LMICs
(Source: Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023)

Literacy and digital skills is consistently highly reported as a barrier by men and women, ranking second overall. This primarily includes difficulties with reading and writing, although not knowing how to access the Internet on a mobile phone was also commonly cited by respondents in several countries, including India and Indonesia.

At the country level, there are variations in the top-reported barriers. Affordability was the top barrier for female respondents in all African markets surveyed except Egypt and Ethiopia, where it was literacy and digital skills.

Top barriers to mobile Internet adoption in Africa
(Source: Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023)

"In general, the barriers preventing female and male mobile users who are aware of mobile Internet from adopting it are quite similar. Still, women tend to experience these barriers more acutely than men due to structural inequalities, including disparities in access to education and income," the report said.

Safety and security concerns remain an important barrier, especially in Mexico where it is ranked as the top barrier for male and female mobile users who are aware of mobile Internet but do not use it.

Furthermore, analysis shows that even when women have the same education, income, literacy and employment levels as men, they are still less likely to use mobile Internet, suggesting that other issues are at play, such as discrimination and social norms.

Women are still less likely than men to be aware of mobile Internet across low- and middle-income countries. Although awareness has grown only marginally since 2019, gender gaps have been narrowing consistently. In most survey countries, awareness is relatively high but does not always translate into adoption, the GSMA found.

Related posts:

*Top image source: GSMA's Mobile Gender Gap Report 2021.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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