Connected Women Programme: Accelerating digital and financial inclusion for women
Access, Digital literacy, Entrepreneurship, Private sector, Skills development, Women
Career counselling and professional development
In developing countries, mobile phones are the most popular way to connect to the internet. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the number of mobile internet connections in developing countries is roughly three times that of fixed-line infrastructure internet. GSMA Intelligence estimates that the number of people using mobile internet will reach 3.8 billion in 2020.
Women, however, continue to lag behind men in accessing mobile phones and mobile internet. The significant gender gap in mobile phone ownership and usage in low-and middle-income countries means that women are excluded from digital and financial opportunities.
Mobile internet access can also have profound implications for women’s economic, social, and political empowerment, from entrepreneurship opportunities to affordable healthcare and peer learning platforms. GSMA’s Accelerating digital literacy: Empowering women to use the mobile internet report recommends ways for stakeholders to enable women’s learning such as introducing mobile internet in schools and ICT training; supporting women to learn on their own; and leveraging women’s social circles to be learning channels. When women have access to the internet they can better thrive, and then so can societies, businesses and economies.
GSMA’s Connected Women programme aims to increase women’s access to and use of mobile phones and life-enhancing mobile services in developing markets, attract and retain female talent, and encourage women’s leadership in technology on a global basis. The programme works with mobile operators and their partners to address the barriers to women’s access and use of mobile internet and mobile money services.
By working with partners, Connected Women advances the inclusion of women across the mobile industry and improves socio-economic benefits to women and the broader mobile ecosystem. The programme provides courses and initiatives to increase women’s access to and use of mobile phones and life-enhancing mobile services in developing markets, as well as closing the digital skills gender gap.
Through the Connected Women Commitment initiative, mobile operators make formal commitments to reduce the gender gap in their mobile money or mobile internet customer base. Activities undertaken by operators participating in the initiative include:
Reaching women customers through micro loans and savings products
Helping women’s agricultural groups see the benefits of mobile money for payments
Improving the data top-up process to be safer and more appealing to women
Developing healthcare apps
Recruiting women agents and merchants
Creating mobile financial products for traditional women’s savings groups
Launching handset credit schemes
Improving digital literacy among women through educational programmes and interactive content
Developing marketing use cases, which appeal to women.
Building the capacity of regulators and policymakers has also been at the forefront of the GSMA Connected Women’s efforts to reduce the gender gap in mobile internet and mobile money services in low- and middle-income countries. Bridging the Mobile Gender Gap (BMGG), a course by Connected Women aims to help current and future policymakers and regulators understand the digital gender divide. Grounded in dialogue and encouraging discussion among participants, the course aims to explore ways of integrating gender perspectives into strategies, policies, plans and budgets so that they explicitly address women’s needs, circumstances and preferences.
Connected Women is currently funded by UKAID, GSMA, the Swedish government and partnerships with a wide range of operators such as Orange Senegal, Tigo Paraguay and Smart Uganda.
As of May 2019, the Connected Women Commitment initiative received 53 commitments from 38 operators to reduce the gender gap in their mobile money and/or mobile internet customer base across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Commitment partners have reached over 19 million women with mobile money or mobile internet services. Through the Commitment initiative and previous work, Connected Women and its mobile operator partners have delivered life-enhancing services to more than 34 million women.
The BMGG course has been delivered online and face-to-face to over 180 participants since 2018. Delivering the BMGG course has also allowed Connected Women to learn about in-country challenges and distinct regional perspectives. For example, in May 2019, 35 participants took part in the BMGG course in Cotonou, Benin. Participants included the ICT Minister and the Minister of Social Affairs and Microfinance of Benin. The course enabled the government and the mobile operators to exchange perspectives related to topics such as cross-sectoral data collection and analysis, digital safety and security and digital literacy trainings. Together, participants developed an action plan aimed at reducing the country’s digital gender gap.
One of the aims of capacity building is to enable policymakers and regulators to incorporate gender considerations into their national strategies. Connected Women follows course participants in the development of initiatives such as raising awareness of the gender gap within their local communities, spearheading policy and process changes within the organizations, and tackling key barriers to women’s access and use of mobile money and mobile internet through a number of actionable and measurable steps.
The BMGG course highlighted the similarity of obstacles faced by a mixed group of regulators and governments, from challenges related to gender-disaggregated data collection and analysis, to the involvement of women in policy design or the necessity of introducing sustainable models of public-private partnerships.
More generally, Connected Women has found that most online content is directed at men and designed by men. This means that women have to adapt their skills to use the internet. To deal with this challenge, the Connected Women programme designs its curriculum based on women’s inputs on what they want to learn about mobile phones and the internet. This feedback is gathered through surveys, local workshops and by collecting regular data from women telecentre users in selected countries.
Most women often lack time to follow long courses in full. Courses should therefore be shortened and last between 1 to 4 hours.
Since the needs and skills of women participants vary significantly, courses of non-linear nature are more adapted, allowing participants to skip sessions and attend when possible.
Social and local challenges often stand in the way of women accessing internet. Involving other women in the communities builds a network, can ensure participation and fosters a safe and conducive environment for women.
EQUALS Research Group. 2018. Taking stock: Data and evidence on gender equality in digital access, skills and leadership. Preliminary findings of a review by the EQUALS research group. Geneva: International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
GSMA. 2015. Accelerating digital literacy: Empowering women to use the mobile internet. London: GSMA.
Rowntree, O. 2019. Connected Women: The mobile gender gap report 2019. London: GSMA.