Nº 3 2013 > Government and industry role models

GSMA mWomen

Creating socio-economic benefit for women through mobile
By Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA

Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMAGSMA mWomen
Anne Bouverot, Director General, GSMA

On the occasion of International Girls in ICT Day, GSMA celebrates global efforts to support girls and women as future leaders in the information and communication technology (ICT) industry. Our GSMA Connected Women initiative, which provides networking and mentoring opportunities for women in the mobile industry, reflects our commitment to enabling women’s success and leadership in a historically male-dominated industry.

Beyond these efforts to ensure an inclusive industry, GSMA also aims to put women at the centre of economic development, job creation and other life-changing benefits available from mobile phone usage. To facilitate access to mobile products and services that could change the lives of millions of women in low- and middle-income markets, GSMA has developed the GSMA mWomen Programme.

Bridging the mobile phone gender gap

GSMA launched the mWomen Programme in October 2010, with the support of former United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, following the release of our report, Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity. This study, by GSMA and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, was the first to identify the magnitude and causes of a mobile phone gender gap in low- to middle-income countries. The study estimated that women in these markets were 21 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone, resulting in a gender gap of 300 million women and representing a USD 13 billion missed market opportunity for the mobile industry.

The study identified the key barriers to women’s mobile access, including cost, culture, technical illiteracy and perceptions of value. It also demonstrated some of the ways in which women benefit from mobile ownership. For example, 93 per cent of women surveyed reported feeling safer, 85 per cent reported feeling more independent and 41 per cent reported greater access to income-generating opportunities, thanks to a mobile phone. Prompted by these findings, GSMA undertook a series of projects, culminating in the GSMA mWomen Global Development Alliance, financed and implemented in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development, the Australian Agency for International Development, and Visa Inc.

The GSMA mWomen Programme’s objective is to reduce by half the mobile gender gap by encouraging mobile operators to serve women, increasing the availability of life-enhancing, value-added services for women and promoting solutions to address barriers to adoption. The programme is focused on identifying business models that can serve women on a sustained basis at scale, by providing support and insights to spur action on the part of mobile operators, value-added service providers and other mobile industry members, as well as non-governmental organizations and other international development partners.

Mobile products and services designed for women

We’ve begun to see some examples of how operators are gaining deeper understanding of the needs of women as consumers in their markets, and achieving commercial and social success as a result. In 2011, for example, Iraqi operator Asiacell saw that women made up only 20 per cent of its subscriber base. After conducting consumer research to understand the needs of women, the company launched the Almas line of products. This line matches the needs of Iraqi women for mobile services by offering features such as: “step charging”, with a 50 per-cent discount after the third minute; freedom for women to choose their own off-peak hours; discounted rates for off-network calls; and a free “bye-bye” service that blocks potential harassers from calling or texting. Since the launch of the product in April 2011, female customers now account for close to 40 per cent of Asiacell’s customer base and about 1.8 million women in Iraq have been connected to friends and family, becoming more socially and financially independent, thanks to their access to mobile technology. In February 2013, Almas was awarded the Global Mobile Award for “Best Mobile Product or Service for Women in Emerging Markets” at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Another example is Indonesia’s Indosat. To differentiate its offering in a competitive marketplace, Indosat acted on the findings of its in-house and external market research to create a mobile product specifically targeting the wants and needs of women homemakers. The resulting Hebat Keluarga service aims to help housewives better manage their households and stay in touch with their families. The plan includes an affordable friends-and-family tariff, a “family-finder” application to track the geographical location of family members, and an extended SIM card validity period. Since its launch in July 2011, Indosat’s female customer base has increased by nearly two million women customers.

An example of a sustainable ecosystem partnership to serve women is illustrated by the 2012 Global Mobile Award winner, the Etisalat Mobile Baby service, developed in partnership by Etisalat, Qualcomm, D-Tree International and Great Connection Inc. Mobile Baby is a suite of affordable services designed to reduce instances of death resulting from pregnancy in emerging markets. The tool allows for the remote monitoring of pregnancies by ultrasound, communications between midwives and medical facilities in cases of emergencies, and education about warning signs, enabling health workers to act upon emergencies more quickly. Mobile Baby is now available across Etisalat’s markets and has been tailored to include other localized health priorities such as polio eradication.

A role for governments

While the GSMA mWomen Programme focuses primarily on identifying business models that can serve women with life-enhancing services on a sustained basis at scale, GSMA also promotes government action to create the necessary enabling environment to make this possible. Governments interested in ensuring that mobile services reach women just as they do men also have a role to play. For example, government agencies can encourage the development of value-added mobile services that benefit women in particular and are designed with their needs in mind, such as mGovernment services for economic development and mobile services to deliver cashless social payments. Strategic use of universal service funds can help to accelerate these efforts. Governments also have a role to play in collecting national-level data on women in regard to mobile ownership and use, as well as ensuring that gender issues are woven throughout ICT agendas, and that education and other social programmes consider use of technology in their design and implementation. Finally, policy-makers can consider how to promote greater mobile usage by reducing the total cost of mobile ownership for their citizens, perhaps through tax treatment of telecommunication goods and services.

GSMA works for women

The GSMA mWomen Programme demonstrates how the collective efforts of mobile operators, non-governmental organizations, governments and other industry members can improve the lives and future prospects of millions. To learn more about the programme and to take a look at the rich repository of news, findings, tools and other resources, please visit www.mWomen.org.

GSMA is proud to be working in concert with the mobile industry as it increases its focus on the potential of women and girls, both as industry leaders and valued consumers. International Girls in ICT Day offers an excellent opportunity to celebrate our progress thus far and to renew our commitment to ensuring that mobile realizes its full potential as a driver of global economic and social gains.


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