315 million fewer women than men own a smartphone | information age
In low-income countries, women are 16% less likely to use mobile internet than men. Photo: Shutterstock
Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of access to cell phones and mobile internet, providing access to everything from life-saving information to health care and education and e-commerce.
Yet it also highlighted a stark digital divide and showed that those without access to cellphones and mobile internet risk being left even further behind.
As digital services expand, closing the digital gender gap has never been more critical.
However, after years of progress towards equal digital inclusion for women, there is now a slowdown and in some cases a reversal, the latest GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report found.
Closing the mobile gender gap
Mobile ownership and use remains unequal in many countries, and although the mobile internet gender gap has narrowed, it has now stalled.
When it comes to the gender gap in smartphone ownership, it has widened slightly, after five years of improvements, GSMA research has shown.
Women are now 18% less likely than men to own a smartphone, translating to 315 million fewer women than men owning a smartphone, in low- and middle-income countries.
In low- and middle-income countries in particular, women are 16% less likely to use mobile internet than men.
According to the GSMA, the gender gaps in mobile telephony are due to social, economic and cultural factors, which cause women to face barriers to mobile ownership and use.
Women tend to face more acute barriers than men due to structural inequalities and underlying social norms, including gender disparities in education and income.
Closing the mobile gender gap, the GSMA says, requires a focus on access, affordability, knowledge and skills, safety and security, and appropriateness of mobile services.
“Significant and coordinated efforts are urgently needed to ensure that women do not continue to be disproportionately affected by the ongoing pandemic and left behind in a more digitalized society,” the report said.
Digital exclusion is a problem in Australia
Australia also has its own digital gender divide, with women being more digitally excluded than men, according to the Australian Digital Inclusion 2021 Index.
This means that low-income women, unpaid caregivers, women with disabilities, First Nations women and older women are more likely to have lower skills, self-confidence and affordable internet access, Good Things Foundation found.
The groups note that women in Australia are more likely than men to report online abuse in their professional and personal lives, which can lead to lower online engagement rates.
Women are also less likely to be employed in our growing tech workforce and more likely to take career breaks to care for family, which can see digital skills development stagnate and confidence dwindling, according to the foundation.
This is also reflected in the workforce, although there are significant economic dividends to boosting participation.
Women make up just 29% of the tech industry workforce, according to the ACS 2021 Digital Pulse report.
Yet an increasing diversity of the tech workforce would increase the economy by an average of $1.8 billion per year over the next 20 years, which would represent a potential increase of $11 billion in terms of net present value (NPV).
The issue of the digital divide is also an issue for other groups in Australia.
Across the country, the Digital Inclusion Index showed that one in four people are still digitally excluded, although this has a disproportionate impact on different groups.
People with low levels of income, education and employment; those who live in certain regional areas; people over the age of 65; and people with disabilities are at particular risk of being left behind, the data shows.
“The index shows that while digital inclusion is slowly increasing across Australia, there remains a substantial digital divide in Australia,” said the Good Things Foundation.