By Omobayo Azeez
Gender gap in mobile internet access might have denied Low, and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) total sum of $700 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) over a period of five years.
This is according to the Global System for Mobile Communication Association (GSMA), which proffered that bridging this gap will deliver the amount, adding that closing the gender gap in mobile ownership and use in LMICs could also deliver $140 billion in additional revenue to the mobile industry.
In its latest Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020 report released at the weekend, GSMA observed that across LMICs, 1.2 billion women now own a smartphone.
This, according to the report marks a rapid increase in these markets, where female smartphone ownership has grown from 44 per cent to 55 per cent since 2017.
In sub-Sahara Africa for instance, despite perceived higher population of the female gender, there still existed gender gap in internet access which stood at 37 per cent, 38 per cent and 37 per cent in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Statistics also shows that in the last three years, there had been a constant gender gap of 13 per cent in mobile phone access with women having the lower share.
The GSMA stated that connectivity is more important than ever in 2020 as internet access is a gateway to critical information, services and opportunities available to many people for the first time.
Although, it reveals that growth in internet access has been remarkable LMICs, where 2.9 billion people now access the internet on their mobile phones, it said despite its importance, mobile access and use remain unequal.
The report read, “Across developing countries, mobile is the primary way most people access the internet, with mobile broadband connections comprising 87 per cent of total broadband connections.
“Across LMICs, women are still 8 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone, and 20 per cent less likely to use the internet on a mobile. This means that in these markets 300 million fewer women than men use mobile internet.”
While the association further noted that a key barrier is smartphone ownership, which is also 20 per cent lower for women than for men, it however, said there is promising evidence that the widest gender gaps are beginning to close.
“Much work remains, but this suggests mobile gender gaps can be reduced and the benefits of connectivity distributed more equally.
“It is critical that the mobile gender gap is understood and overcome, as mobile ownership and use provides life-changing benefits to women, their families, communities and the economy.
“This research has found that mobile ownership makes the majority of men and women feel safer, provides access to important information for the first time and supports them in work and study,” the report further read.
The GSMA also found that the underlying gender gap in mobile ownership remains largely unchanged, with the remaining unconnected population proving difficult to reach.
For both men and women, it said, awareness of mobile internet is growing quickly even as it remains unequal, and that both genders are increasingly seeing the internet as relevant to their lives.
On constraints against connectivity, it fingered poor digital skills and affordability as the primary barriers to mobile phone ownership for men and women.
“Among mobile users who are aware of mobile internet, a lack of literacy and digital skills continues to be the main barrier to use, followed by affordability.
“Safety concerns are also a key barrier to mobile internet access, particularly in Latin America. Although relevance has declined in importance as a barrier, it remains a critical factor in several countries,” it revealed.
Reacting to the findings of the report, Abiola Akioyode, founding Director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), said poor digital skills and affordability given for women’s low internet access can be linked to their background, where female children are out of school.
She added the impact has not been palatable as this 37 per cent access also put the women at the risk of poor information about critical issues.
“For instance, majority of information about coronavirus pandemic is shared online. So, if women do not have access to internet or they are not strong on social media, what that means is that they would lack the desired information they are supposed to have.
“Another implication is that where majority of women do not have access, there is a lot of threats to the few among them who do. We have seen cases where ladies who are active on the internet to promote gender balance have their account pulled down.
“This kind of issue still revolves around gender equity as its crust and in the light of this, the focus is also about responsibility of the government to provide an enabling environment that ensures women are not left behind in digital access,” she said.
The third edition of The Mobile Gender Gap Report considers how women’s mobile access and use are changing, and how efforts to reach women with technology should evolve alongside.
The findings of the report were sourced from the annual GSMA Intelligence Consumer Survey, which in 2019 had over 16,000 respondents from 15 LMICs