It’s not the first piece of research to say so, but a new study offers a useful reminder that having access to mobile phones empowers women in less developed countries.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (described as the world's most-cited multidisciplinary scientific serial), covers 209 countries between 1993 and 2017 and shows that access to mobile phones is associated with multiple indicators linked to global social development, such as good health, gender equality, and poverty reduction.
The authors – researchers from McGill University, the University of Oxford, and Bocconi University – also conducted an individual-level analysis between 2015 and 2017 on 100,000 women from Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe, countries where the adoption of mobile phones is growing quickly.
Results indicate that, other things being equal, women who own mobile phones have a one per cent higher probability of being involved in decision-making processes about contraception, a two per cent higher likelihood of using modern contraceptive methods, and a three per cent higher likelihood of knowing where to get tested for HIV compared with women who do not own a phone.
However, women are less likely to own mobile phones on their own, use them less often when they have access, and have poorer information and communications technology skills compared to men.
Similar findings come from the GSMA’s recent report The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020, which noted that growth in internet access has been remarkable in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), where 2.9 billion people now have access to the internet on their mobile phones. Despite these advances, women are still eight per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone, and 20 per cent less likely to use the internet on a mobile device.
However, says the GSMA, there is promising evidence that the widest gender gaps are beginning to close. It cites its own earlier research that found that, over five years, closing the gender gap in mobile internet use in LMICs could deliver an additional $700 billion in GDP growth. Closing the gender gap in mobile ownership use in LMICs could also deliver $140 billion in additional revenue to the mobile industry, according to the GSMA.