Google’s announcement this week to buy Motorola Mobility for US$12.5 billion signals its move into the telecommunications hardware business and provides further evidence that mobile technology is on the rise—and here to stay.
Mobile ownership has skyrocketed in recent years, not only in developed countries but also in emerging economies. But is everyone benefitting equally from this technology? Studies show that there is a significant mobile phone gender gap: 300 million fewer women around the world have access to mobile technology than men. According to recent reports, a woman is 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man in her country and that figure increases to 23 percent if the woman lives in Sub-Saharan Africa, 24 percent in the Middle East, and 37 percent in South Asia.
Earlier this summer, the GSMA mWomen Programme—an innovative public-private partnership among the U.S. Department of State, GSMA, and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women—published a report outlining four policy recommendations to address this gender gap. The recommendations include: reducing the total cost of ownership of a mobile phone, removing cultural barriers to mobile phone ownership and access, addressing limited technical literacy among women at the base of the pyramid, and encouraging the development of value-added mobile services that benefit women in particular.
While action in all four areas is crucial to close this gap, the fourth recommendation around value-added mobile services for women should not be overlooked. Mobile technology is particularly powerful for women because it is a tool that can improve literacy, facilitate job connections, improve access to health information, and further financial inclusion efforts (and the list goes on!). While access to mobile technology is the first step, getting phones in the hands of women will not guarantee that they will benefit fully from the technology. This is where companies, policy makers, and NGOs can play a crucial role.
A few innovations and partnerships that target women through mobile technology include:
- Mobilink, UNESCO, and the local NGO Bunyad teamed up to use SMS messages to improve women’s literacy in Pakistan. Through the partnership, 250 young women between the ages of 15 and 24 received a low-cost mobile phone if they completed a basic literacy course. After the course, they received SMS messages each day for four months to help them retain what they had learned and improve their literacy going forward. Eighty-seven percent of participants and their families felt the phones had improved learning outcomes.
Souktel’s JobMatch service helps women find work through SMS technology. Souktel created a platform that allows users to create mini-CVs that include basic information about their job skills and experience. The CVs are submitted through SMS messages to a database that employers review daily.
Frontline SMS and the Molave Development Foundation Inc. joined forces in the Philippines to inform and educate expecting mothers about maternal health issues through SMS messages. The program not only pushed out information through SMS, but also enabled women to text their questions or concerns to a qualified health care professional.
Do you know of any other partnerships or innovations that are improving women’s lives through mobile technology?