Mobile finance is all the rage in the development community, but the movement has ignored half the world — women. Though reports constantly extol the benefits and expanding reach of mobile banking, a closer look at the upward trend reveals that men are disproportionately benefiting.
Melinda Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, criticized this disheartening pattern in mobile finance in a recent piece in The New York Times. The incredible reach of mobile finance isn’t spreading equally between genders, Gates said. Women are 21 percent less likely than men to own a mobile phone in developing nations.
Without access to a traditional banking system and mobile phones, women are left behind in economic advances.
Access to mobile phones would revolutionize women’s lives. Without access, women are more vulnerable to unexpected financial setbacks. Instead of using a cell phone to secure a loan through a financial institution, a woman may be forced to sell an animal or other household asset for immediate cash. With access to the global financial market, women would be able to plan a more secure future.
As women tend to spend more on the household, better access to phones would improve the lives of their children as well. Case study after case study tell the stories of how women use their phones to boost income. Stella, a housecleaner in Nairobi, benefits by instantly sending her family mobile money instead of spending long hours on a bus transporting the cash. The less time on a bus, the more time she has to work and the more income she’s able to send to her family. Stella isn’t alone. A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that women use up to 90 percent of their income on their families and communities.
Growing anecdotal evidence about the mobile gender gap sparked a recent report by the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. The report ultimately found that while there are 1.4 billion male mobile subscribers, there were only 1.1 billion women mobile subscribers. That’s a 300 million person gender gap. Cost was the main reason for this gap, but there were cultural issues as well. In some cultures, the traditional roles of men and women can prevent a woman from owning a mobile phone. And in some rural areas, women were concerned about their ability to learn how to use mobile phones.
Women need to have the same access to mobile tech as men. Closing the gender gap is the morally right thing to do, but there’s a monetary incentive as well. Closing the gap could generate up to $13 billion more in revenue per year in low- and middle-income countries, according to the GSMA study.
Women have been left out of the mobile revolution too long. It’s time for governments and mobile tech companies to close the gender gap and get more phones into the hands of women.