Home TechInternet Claire Sibthorpe Reveals Key Findings from Latest Mobile Gender Gap Report

Claire Sibthorpe Reveals Key Findings from Latest Mobile Gender Gap Report

by Brian Yatich
Claire Sibthorpe Reveals Key Findings from Latest Mobile Gender Gap Report

The latest Mobile Gender Gap Report was launched by GSMA in May 2023, providing an overview of the current state of the digital gender gap across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).


According to the report, it is projected that by 2030, approximately 800 million women will need to adopt mobile internet to close the gap.

The report delves into the key barriers that hinder women’s equal access to and use of mobile technology, as well as the socio-economic benefits of bridging this gap for the mobile industry, the economy, and society as a whole.

The findings presented in the report are based on the analysis of data obtained from over 13,800 face-to-face surveys conducted in 12 LMICs. These surveys were followed by comprehensive modelling and data analysis processes to extract meaningful insights.

To gain further insights, Brian Yatich, a business and technology journalist at The East African Business Times, Kenya. engaged with Claire Sibthorpe, Head of Connected Women at GSMA.

Below excerpt:

Can you provide an overview of the key findings from the latest Mobile Gender Gap Report?

The Mobile Gender Gap Report tracks the gap between the number of men and women in low- and middle-income countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America who have access to mobile phones and/or mobile internet. It also provides a breakdown of the barriers to mobile ownership and mobile internet adoption.  In the latest edition of the report, we found the following:

  • Over 800 million women will need to adopt mobile internet to close the digital gender gap by 2030 across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
  • If the gap remains unchanged, the current forecasts suggest that only 360 million more women will adopt mobile internet by 2030.
  • Almost two-thirds (61%) of women across LMICs are now using mobile internet.
  • For the past two years, the rates of adoption amongst women have slowed considerably with only 60 million women adopting mobile internet in 2022, versus 75 million in 2021.
  • Women in LMICs are 19% less likely than men to use mobile internet
  • There are still 440 million women across LMICs who do not own a mobile phone and are proving difficult to reach.
  • Women in LMICs are 17% less likely than men to own a smartphone, translating into around 250 million fewer women than men.
The report states that the rate of adoption of mobile internet among women in low- and middle-income countries has slowed for the second year in a row. What do you think are the main reasons behind this slowdown?

We have seen a slowdown in mobile internet adoption rates among women for the second year in a row, and now a slowdown for men over the last year, highlighting that progress on digital inclusion for all has stalled for all across LMICs.

This is likely to be due to economic fragility and supply chain disruption in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. All these factors result in making mobile and the internet less accessible and less affordable, especially for women and other underserved groups who have been disproportionately impacted by recent crises.

Despite our data showing that more women in LMICs are connected to mobile internet than ever before, , there is still a substantial and unchanged gender gap. While 61% of women across LMICs now use mobile internet, they are 19% less likely than men to do so.

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to have a wide gender gap for mobile ownership and mobile internet adoption, with women 36% less likely than men to use mobile internet.

The stubborn mobile gender gaps and further slowdown in digital inclusion is a stark reminder for all stakeholders to focus attention, action, and investment on addressing the digital gender divide.

The report highlights those women are 19% less likely than men to use mobile internet. What are the key barriers preventing women’s equal access to and use of mobile in these countries?

The mobile gender gap is driven by a range of social, economic and cultural factors, which result in women experiencing barriers to mobile ownership and use more acutely than men. Across low- and middle-income countries, the key barriers preventing women’s use of mobile internet are:

  • Affordability of handsets is the top-reported barrier to mobile internet adoption. In eight of the 12 survey countries, handset cost was the single most important reason preventing both male and female mobile users who are already aware of mobile internet from adopting it. Women’s lower income and autonomy over household finances mean that handsets are typically less affordable for them than men. GSMA analysis found that, on average, the cost of an entry-level handset represents a quarter of women’s monthly income in LMICs, compared to just 15% of men’s.
  • Literacy and digital skills remain one of the top barriers to mobile internet adoption in LMICs. Women’s lower levels of education and confidence using mobile means that they are more likely than men to report this as a barrier.
  • Awareness: Despite growing levels of awareness of mobile internet across LMICs, women are still less likely than men to be aware of it in 11 of the 12 survey countries.

Understanding and addressing these barriers is essential if we are to drive digital inclusion and close the substantial and stubborn gender gaps.

We must work closely with other industry players, policymakers, NGOs and the development community to overcome these challenges, to address women’s needs and the barriers they face and ensure they reap the full benefits of being connected.

The report also mentions that gender gaps in smartphone ownership and overall mobile ownership remain relatively unchanged. What efforts are being made to address these gaps and increase women’s ownership of mobile devices?

The data collected in the Mobile Gender Gap Report 2023 is a clear indication that action is essential to ensure no one is left behind in an increasingly digital world. As the rate of digital inclusion is slowing across low- and middle-income countries, more effort and focus are needed to address the gap and make sure women and their communities can access and make use of mobile technology.

By taking informed, concrete actions to address women’s needs and the barriers they face to accessing and using mobile internet, it is possible to narrow the digital gender gap. Mobile operators across Africa, Asia and Latin America are demonstrating this.

Through the Connected Women Commitment Initiative, over 40 mobile operators have made formal commitments to reduce the gender gap in their customer base for their mobile internet and/or mobile money services (women are 28% less likely than men to own a mobile money account across LMICs).

Since this initiative was launched in 2016, they have successfully reached over 65 million additional women with mobile internet and mobile money services.

A number of mobile operators have been focusing on reducing the gender gap in mobile ownership and smartphone ownership. In Kenya, for instance, Safaricom PLC has been targeting women with more affordable internet-enabled handsets and handset financing to address women’s price sensitivity. 51% of their 950,000 Lipo Mdogo Mdogo (handset financing) customers are women.

Drawing on research and previous work with mobile operators, we set out ten key recommendations, along with a framework and approach for reaching women with mobile devices and services, across the following three key areas:

  • Including a focus on female customers at the organisational level
  • Understanding the opportunity and challenge of reaching women
  • Taking action to reach women through new or existing initiatives.
The report focuses on South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the mobile gender gaps are the widest. What specific challenges do women in these regions face in accessing and using mobile internet?

There are 900 million women in low- and middle-income countries who are still not using mobile internet. Almost two-thirds of them live in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The women in these regions remain the least likely to use mobile internet compared to men, with gender gaps of 41% and 36%, respectively.

The most significant barrier preventing women from owning a handset and connecting to the internet is affordability, but literacy and digital skills are also highly ranked as key barriers in the region for women. Other barriers include safety and security concerns and lack of perceived relevance.

Millions more women than men face these barriers because they are offline. Women also tend to experience these barriers more acutely due to social norms and structural inequalities, such as lower education and income.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, we need greater collaboration from all stakeholders in the digital community, from governments to operators, NGOs to internet companies, to address these complex socio-economic barriers that women face to accessing and using mobile internet.

What are the socio-economic benefits of closing the mobile internet gender gap for the mobile industry, the economy, and society as a whole?

Closing the mobile gender gap is critically important and delivers significant socio-economic benefits to underserved women, their communities, and the economy overall.

We have found that, once women own a smartphone, their awareness and use of mobile internet is almost on par with men. Through successfully addressing the barriers that are preventing women from accessing devices and going online, we will not only advance women’s digital and financial inclusion, but we will unlock the significant potential for growth in the mobile industry that will benefit regional economies across low- and middle-income countries.

We estimate that closing the gender gap in mobile ownership and use across low- and middle-income countries by 2030 represents a $230bn revenue opportunity for the mobile industry

The report is based on face-to-face surveys conducted across 12 low- and middle-income countries. Can you briefly explain the methodology used and how the data was analysed?

The findings of the Mobile Gender Gap Report come from the annual GSMA Consumer Survey, which this year had more than 13,800 respondents from 12 LMICs. These are face-to-face, nationally representative surveys. For the report, the research is paired with analysis of other research and data from the GSMA and other organisations that investigate and track the mobile gender gap.

What are the key recommendations from the report on what is needed to close the mobile internet gender gap?

It is only with the concerted action and collaboration of different stakeholders that we can truly accelerate women’s digital inclusion.

In the Mobile Gender Gap Report, we provide the following recommendations to all stakeholders to close the mobile gender gap:

  • Ensure there is a focus on gender equality and reaching women at an organisational and policy level. The senior leaders need to champion the issue and set specific gender equity targets.
  • Understand the mobile gender gap by improving the quality and availability of gender-disaggregated data. Only through understanding women’s needs and the barriers they face to mobile ownership and use we will close the gap.
  • Explicitly address women’s needs, circumstances and challenges in the design and implementation of mobile-related products, services, interventions and policies. This includes addressing the barriers women face related to affordability, knowledge and digital skills, safety and security, and access and availability of relevant content, products and services.
  • Collaborate and partner with different stakeholders to address the mobile gender gap. Targeted intervention is needed from industry, policymakers, the development community, and other stakeholders to ensure that women are no longer left behind.
How can governments, mobile operators, and other stakeholders collaborate to address the barriers and reduce the gender gap in mobile internet usage?

The root causes of the mobile gender gap are complex, diverse and inter-related and cannot be addressed by one organisation alone. Mobile operators have been making bold commitments to reduce the gender gap in their mobile internet customer base through the Connected Women Commitment initiative and have been successfully reaching millions of additional women.

Public policies also have a key role to play, such as building digital skills, enabling the creation of relevant content, and reducing taxes on smartphones. Other private sector plays, NGOs, research institutions and the development community have important roles to play.

Large public-private initiatives, which are based on an understanding of the local context, needs and barriers of the women, are needed. For instance, government digital skills initiatives realised in partnership with local stakeholders and the private sector.

Looking ahead, what are the future plans and initiatives of GSMA’s Connected Women program to further promote digital inclusion for women in low- and middle-income countries?

The GSMA’s Connected Women works with mobile operators and partners to address the barriers women face. The mission is to reduce the gender gap in mobile internet and mobile money services in low- and middle-income countries and unlock significant commercial and socio-economic opportunities.

We aim to continue to collect and share data on the mobile internet gender gap to measure progress and inform action as well as on the key barriers women face and approaches being taken. We will also continue to support our mobile operator partners on their commitments to reduce the mobile internet gender gap in their customer base as well as policymakers interested in this issue.

Importantly we will continue to highlight the importance of addressing the digital gender gap and the urgency for all stakeholders to take action to address it. With our latest data highlighting a slowing down in digital inclusion for women we can’t be complacent. It’s not a simple task, but it is imperative that we meet the challenge head-on to ensure that women are not being left behind in an increasingly connected world.

Finally, tell us a bit about yourself and your professional journey and how this has shaped who you are today.

I have been working for over 25 years with public, private and international development organisations on social policy and service delivery with a focus on information and communications technology (ICT) policy and practice.

I currently lead the Connected Women and Connected Society programmes which are focused on accelerating digital inclusion for the underserved in low- and middle-income countries. Connected Women has a specific focus on accelerating digital and financial inclusion for women.

Working on initiatives that are focused on digital inclusion for the underserved, particularly women has been the focus of my career. I am deeply passionate about gender equality and the importance of ensuring we are not leaving anyone behind in an increasingly connected world.

I have seen first-hand how mobile and mobile internet can be life-changing. They are helping empower women, making them feel more connected, autonomous, and safer and providing critical access to information, services and life-enhancing opportunities.

I am inspired by the commitments and impact being made by our mobile operator partners and by the many stakeholders that we engage with on this very important issue.


You may also like

Leave a Comment

OKB price
5909.46 KES+1.8%