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Sub-Saharan Africa's glaring mobile connectivity gender gap

Sub-Saharan Africa's glaring mobile connectivity gender gap

Women in Sub-Saharan Africa are 14% less likely to own a mobile handset, 20% less likely to use mobile money and 34% less likely to use the internet.

This is according to the GSMA's Mobile Gender Gap in 2018 research which found that Sub-Saharan Africa's average gender gap in terms of mobile ownership and mobile internet use is second only to South Asia.

Yasmina McCarty, Head of Mobile for Development at the GSMA says, "What this means is that we have less digital empowerment in society and that is not good for anyone. It also means that operators are leaving money on the table. If you have a go-to-market strategy but you only get three quarters of the market by leaving women out, then you are losing. Operators are keen to close the gender gap and are disappointed to find it in the first instance as some didn't realise that it existed. They are now making strides including through interventions like having more women agents. "

Unlocking the benefit

The 2018 GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report estimates that the commercial opportunity for mobile operators in closing the gender gap across low and middle income countries worldwide stands at US$15 billion.

But, as McCarty explains, there are challenges to tapping into this opportunity – including cost. She adds that connecting women in rural areas is ten times more expensive than connecting their urban counterparts and revenues are often a lot less.

"Operators see the opportunity, but the return timeline takes much longer and so they do intend to make those investments but they are very clear that the economics are lower. One of the things they look for is predictability from policy makers because they need a ten-year turnaround for example. That is where government and private sector have to work together."

Dr Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at the African Union Commission (AUC), who spoke during the GSMA's Mobile 360 Africa conference in Kigali last month, said the level of empowerment achieved through connecting women on the continent deserves a great deal more attention.

"Mobile technology was instrumental in economic empowerment of women through mobile money. Some people only see the financial aspect of the transaction and they do not see the element of empowerment. Remember that working women would deliver their income through cash before, but now they have the money in a virtual wallet on their mobile and you can see what that does for empowerment."

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