After years of progress towards equal digital inclusion for women, we are now seeing a slowdown and, in some cases, a reversal.
More than 3.2 billion people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) now have access to Internet on a mobile phone. Mobile is the main means for men and women to access the Internet in LMICs, accounting for 85% of broadband connections in 2021.
In low- and middle-income countries, an additional 59 million women have started using themobile internet in 2021, a significant drop from last year, when nearly twice as many started using it. Women remain 7% less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 16% less likely to use mobile internet. This means that there are still 264 million fewer women than men accessing the mobile internet. Significant and coordinated efforts are urgently needed to close the gender gap and ensure that women can fully participate in a more digitized society.
The findings of report from the GSMA below are based on the results of more than 11,000 face-to-face surveys in 10 low- and middle-income countries, as well as subsequent modeling and analysis of these survey data. Additional qualitative research was conducted in Kenya and India to build on the findings of last year’s report and to develop a more nuanced understanding of women’s mobile internet access and usage , particularly in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mobile phones have enabled people to mitigate some of the negative effects of the pandemic by providing lifelong access to information, health, care, education, e-commerce, financial services and opportunities income generators. Yet the pandemic has also shed light on the deep digital divide, and those without access to cellphones and mobile internet risk being left behind even further.
The gender gap in mobile phone ownership and mobile internet use is calculated using the following formula:
This gender gap in mobile internet usage varies by region, with the largest gaps in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. There has been no noticeable change in regional gender gaps over the years, except in South Asia where steady progress has led to an overall narrowing of the LITI gender gap. However, from 2020 to 2021, male mobile internet adoption in South Asia continued to increase while female adoption plateaued. This has led to an increase in the gender gap in mobile internet in South Asia from 36% to 41%.
India has been a big driver in closing the gender gap over the years, but has seen no significant increase in the share of women adopting mobile internet over the past year, while that a growing proportion of men are adopting mobile internet. The proportion of Indian women using mobile internet remained at 30% this year, while the proportion of Indian men using mobile internet rose to 50%.
In the 10 countries studied, women were less likely than men to own a smart phone !
Smartphones are essential for accessing the internet and closing the gender gap. Once women own a smartphone, their knowledge and use of mobile internet is almost equivalent to that of men. Unfortunately, this year, the story of smartphone ownership isn’t as positive either. While the gender gap in smartphone ownership narrowed from 21% in 2019 to 16% in 2020, it widened to 18% in 2021, reflecting slowing progress in reducing the gender gap in mobile internet.
Research found that once women use a mobile phone and are aware of mobile internet, the main barriers preventing them from adopting mobile internet are lack of digital literacy and skills, price , mainly internet-enabled handsets, and safety and security. These are the same barriers for men, but we also find that these barriers have a disproportionate impact on women. Respondents in our qualitative research in Kenya highlighted that the ability to afford a smartphone and data has declined due to declining incomes, with women being disproportionately affected.
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Mobile internet adoption by women has stalled in many countries
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