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More African women are accessing the internet

A new GSMA report shows there is a growth in the number of women with mobile phones including smartphones, significantly narrowing the region's mobile internet gender gap.

A surge in mobile phone ownership has increased internet usage among women in Africa, leading to a drop in the mobile internet adoption gender gap to 32%, the lowest level it has reached since 2017.

This is according to a new report, ‘Mobile Gender Gap Report 2024’ by GSMA released on May 15. It examines women’s mobile access and use across 12 low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs).

“Despite a challenging year, levels of mobile internet adoption increased in 2023 compared to 2022. The mobile internet and smartphone ownership gender gaps also narrowed for the first time since 2020,” GSMA explains in the report.

The shifting dynamics globally are reflected in Africa where “the gender gap narrowed slightly for the first time in five years.” This improvement means women are now 15% less likely than men to use mobile internet, down from 19% in 2022.

Mobile phone ownership is the major driving force behind this reduced gap. The report shows the rate of mobile phone ownership increased from 63% in 2017 to 71% in 2023, excluding North African countries. While 94 million women in the region still do not own a mobile phone, this figure has dropped from 100 million in 2017.

Similarly, in the MENA region, mobile ownership has risen to 82% in 2023 from 71% in 2017, and the proportion of women using mobile internet has increased from 43% to 62% over the same period.

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Countries in Africa making significant progress include Kenya, Nigeria, and Egypt, with the smallest gender gaps in mobile ownership at 1%, 5%, and 6%, respectively. Uganda (11%), Senegal (12%) and Ethiopia (28%) also show notable progress.

According to the report’s authors, mobile phone ownership is fundamental as it marks the beginning of the journey towards mobile internet access, especially in low- and middle-income countries where internet access is primarily via mobile phones.

“The mobile internet user journey starts with mobile ownership and progresses to mobile internet awareness, mobile internet adoption and, finally, to regular and diverse mobile internet use,” the report details.

The type of mobile device matters significantly in internet usage. More women acquiring smartphones last year led to a reduction in the smartphone gender gap from 15% to 13% across all LMICs.

However, the African region can still improve significantly. Only 32% of women have smartphones, compared to 80% in East Asia and the Pacific and 79% in Europe and Central Asia.

There is also a huge opportunity to convert some smartphone owners into internet users, according to the report, for example, in Kenya where 18% of women who own a smartphone do not use mobile internet.

“This indicates that in these countries they face other barriers to using it.”

In surveyed countries, the primary obstacles to mobile internet adoption among both men and women who are aware of it include affordability (primarily of handsets), literacy, and digital skills. These barriers are particularly challenging for women due to factors like the gender pay gap, lower employment rates, and access to education.

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Beyond these barriers, a survey accompanying the report shows that the information gap that was prominent in the past has been effectively addressed. In Kenya, for instance, at least 90% of respondents believe it is equally important for men and women to own and use mobile internet.

Also, even as they wait for internet access, the resilience of women who access the internet on borrowed devices when they do not own smartphones is substantial, the report said.

GSMA recommends gender equality focus at both the organizational and policy levels through senior leaders, improving the quality and availability of gender-disaggregated data, addressing women’s needs in the design of mobile-internet-related products, and collaborating with stakeholders.

Finally, according to GSMA, closing the gender gap in low- and middle-income countries between 2023 and 2030 represents a US$230bn revenue opportunity for the mobile industry.

By BONFACE ORUCHO, BIRD STORY AGENCY

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