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Exploit Massive Opportunity in Bridging the Mobile Gender Gap in Nigeria – GSMA

The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA),  the trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide is calling on investors to take advantage of the huge opportunity in closing the mobile gender gap in Nigeria, and Africa in general.

Globally, there is currently a 10% gender gap in mobile ownership between men and women in Low-and Middle-income Countries. Sad.

While mobile phone ownership and mobile internet use have increased significantly among women, there is still a persistent gender gap. Women’s lower levels of mobile ownership and use not only reflect existing gender inequalities, but also threaten to compound them. If the mobile gender gap is not addressed, women risk being left behind as societies and economies digitise.

Against the background of the constructive talks held at GSMA Women4Tech Programme at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Digivation’s Chuks Otuya raises a number of issues with Claire Sibthorpe, Head Connected Women and Connected Society at GSMA. 

Chuks: First, I’d like you to explain the economic loss the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, is incurring because of the current gender mobile ownership gap?

Claire: Mobile technology is becoming an increasingly important driver of economic activity and growth. This is particularly true of mobile – in 2018, the mobile industry contributed an estimated $3.9 trillion to global GDP. And mobile plays a particularly important economic role in Sub-Saharan Africa, where a majority of internet users only ever access it on a mobile phone.

As such, the inequality in women’s access to mobile represents a substantial missed opportunity to drive increased economic growth. Across all low- and middle-income countries, the GSMA estimates that closing the gender gap in mobile internet usage between 2019 and 2023 could add an additional $700 billion in GDP growth.

Chuks: What practical socio-economic opportunities are there for sub-Saharan Africa (including Nigeria) in closing the gender mobile ownership gap?

Claire: As well as providing economic growth opportunities, closing the mobile gender gap in Sub-Saharan Africa can also help improve the lives of women, their families and communities by providing access to a range of life-enhancing services.

Mobile can make it easier for women to participate actively in the economy, for example through being able to more easily find customers for small businesses, or access pricing information. It can also widen access to educational resources and maternal health information, contributing to more equal literacy and education levels for women, and improving health outcomes.

According to research that the GSMA undertook along with Gallup, mobile phone ownership supplemented with internet access is associated withan improvement in women’s lives, meaning that closing the gender gap presents an important opportunity to support women’s wellbeing at an individual level

Chuks: The top barriers to mobile ownership and use in Low and Middle-Income Countries (including Nigeria) are: ‘affordability’, ‘literacy & digital skills’. What can policy makers & regulators, internet companies, mobile network operators, and development institutions do to remove these barriers?

Claire: There is no one-size-fits all solution to these problems, but there are some concrete actions that all organisations can work towards to address these barriers. Some examples include minimising the cost of mobile handsets for consumers at the point of purchase, such as through reductions in manufacturing costs and handset financing programmes.

Organisations should also engage in improving the digital skills of new mobile owners, including through providing hands-on training in how to use internet services. But service providers should also ensure that their products cater to those with low levels of literacy, and are available in a range of local languages.

But the first critical step is that organisations start thinking about women’s needs throughout the design and implementation of products, services and policies, including by setting gender equity goals, and tracking their progress against them.

ChuksThe commercial opportunity of closing the mobile gender gap by 2023 for the mobile industry is 140billion dollars. Do you think this alone is enough incentive for investors across board to collaborate towards bridging the gap?

Claire: The commercial opportunity of closing the mobile gender gap is one important incentive for the mobile industry to take action. But many operators also recognise the important role they have in driving forward digital transformation in their markets. The mobile industry was the first sector to formally commit to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and since then has tracked its progress in contributing to these goals.

As such, many mobile operators are taking concrete steps to close the mobile gender gap in their markets. As part of the Connected Women Commitment Initiative, 37 mobile operators have made formal commitments to reduce the gender gap in their subscriber base by 2020 – including 19 in Sub-Saharan Africa. These operators have provided over 16 million additional women with access to digital and financial services since 2016

ChuksI was in my village last Saturday for a visit, and discovered that the cost of internet and voice calls exceed those of the city. MNOs complain of the high cost of operations in rural communities, which their service to rural dwellers cannot compensate for. Hence the cost for the poor villagers is exorbitant. What recommendations do you have in circumstances like this around Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa?

Claire: Mobile operators are making substantial efforts to find innovative technologies that reduce the costs of providing mobile connectivity in rural and remote areas. These efforts focus on passive infrastructure (such as antennas and towers), radio equipment, and energy solutions that are specifically designed to operate in rural areas where other basic infrastructure is lacking.

One example of such efforts is the Connected Society Innovation Fund launched by the GSMA. This fund is financing the piloting of innovative technologies in the rural areas of Ghana and Uganda in partnership with mobile operators in both countries. The GSMA will publish the learnings of these pilots with the aim of helping other operators in Sub-Saharan Africa to overcome the challenges of connecting rural areas in a commercially viable manner.

Chuks: Ms Sibthorpe, thank you for your time.

Claire: My Pleasure.

The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting more than 750 operators with over 350 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors. The GSMA also produces the industry-leading MWC events held annually in Barcelona, Los Angeles and Shanghai, as well as the Mobile 360 Series of regional conferences.

The GSMA Connected Women Programme works with mobile operators and their partners to address the barriers to women accessing and using mobile internet and mobile money services. Connected Women aims to reduce the gender gap in mobile internet and mobile money services and unlock significant commercial opportunities for the mobile industry and socio-economic benefits for women.