More and more women are accessing the internet through mobile devices, at least according to a new report from the GSMA. The organization’s fourth annual Mobile Gender Gap Report looks at international mobile internet usage rates for men and women, and shows that the gap between the two continued to shrink during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report specifically found that the gender gap now sits at 15 percent for women in low and middle-income countries, which is to say that women in those countries are 15 percent less likely to use mobile internet services than their male counterparts. That figure is down from the 19 percent recorded in last year’s Mobile Gender Gap Report.
The GSMA attributed much of that progress to the increased internet adoption in South Asia, which had a gender gap as high as 50 percent as recently as 2019. That represented the largest regional gender gap at the time, though South Asia’s current gender gap of 36 percent places it ahead of the 37 percent gap in Sub-Saharan Africa. In that regard, the phenomenal gains in South Asia have helped lower the global gap despite stagnation in other parts of the world.
In raw numbers, roughly 112 million women in low and middle-income countries became mobile internet users in the past year. However, women are still less likely to have mobile internet access than men, to the point that the number of women using such services is 234 million lower than the number of men.
The GSMA identified affordability, poor digital literacy, and discriminatory cultural practices as some of the primary barriers to mobile internet adoption for women. The organization noted that women are less likely to have and use a smartphone, even when factors like education, income, and employment levels are taken into account.
“If women are to become equal citizens in a more digital, post-COVID world, closing the mobile gender gap has never been more critical,” said GSMA Director General Mats Granryd. “Only concerted action and collaboration will enable women and their families to reap the full benefits of connectivity.”
The GSMA noted that mobile internet access tends to be more transformative for women than it is for men, insofar as women are more likely to access the internet exclusively through a mobile device. That means that the women sending money or signing up for bank accounts are doing so with a mobile device, and are relying on that device when participating in the modern digital economy. The GSMA has tried to raise digital inclusion with an Innovation Fund, and with the publication of a new set of digital accessibility guidelines in December.