Businesses and mobile carriers are missing out on billions of dollars in potential revenue by not closing the gender gap in mobile phone ownership and usage in developing countries, according to research by the GSMA, an association of mobile operators and related businesses.
The research, which used 11,000 interviews with men and women from countries like Niger, India, Egypt, Kenya, China, Mexico and Indonesia, found that on average, women are 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. In South Asia, the gap is 38%. This presents an untapped market for mobile carriers, phone makers and software developers, the report said. Closing that gender gap could add an additional $170 billion to the mobile industry by 2020.
"It's a significant disadvantage to not have access to a mobile phone," said Claire Sibthorpe, Connected Women Program director at the GSMA. "Beyond the basics of keeping in touch with people, phones give people access to things like health information, education and employment, and it helps women save time."
The report found the main barriers to mobile phone ownership were cost, service delivery issues, technical literacy, fears of security and harassment, and social norms that discourage women from using and owning mobile phones.
Sibthorpe said to close the gender gap in mobile ownership, country leaders would have to address some of the more fundamental challenges like poverty, education and equality, but there are things the mobile industry can do to help.
Solutions include offering low-cost handsets and data packages, marketing to men to help them understand why it's important for their wives and daughters to have access to mobile phones, and encouraging mobile software developers to develop products that are user-friendly and compatible with more basic handsets.
In some cultures where it's a social taboo for women to buy things from men, the report recommends that mobile carriers employ women agents to serve female customers.
"We want to influence those who are providing products and services to consider some of these issues, and to make sure they're designing and developing products that meet women's needs," Sibthorpe said. "Unless there's a concerted effort to work with women, the gender gap won't naturally close on its own."