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In developing nations, women lag behind men in use of cell phones

The mobile phone has been critical to helping solve poverty and promote development around the world. But in many developing nations, this hand-held technological revolution has left behind a large segment of the population: women.

That was among several findings in a first-of-its-kind study of mobile technology by the GSM Development Fund and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.

The study showed that mobile phone ownership in low- and middle-income countries has skyrocketed in recent years but that a woman was 21 percent less likely to own a cell phone than a man. That means the mobile banking, health and educational text messaging programs being created by the State Department and development organizations will reach far fewer women than men.

The number of women not using mobile phones is about 300 million, according to Vital Wave Consulting, a research and consulting group that conducted the study released last month.

“Cell phones are more ubiquitous in the developing world so you have to look at development through cell phones because people don’t have alternative forms of access,’ said Brooke Partridge, chief executive of Vital Wave.

She said women aren’t using cell phones at the same rate as men because of cultural issues and low income. In some cases, men don’t want their wives and daughters to have access to a mobile phone, Partridge said.

Yet nine out of ten women said they feel safer because of their mobile phones and nearly as many said they feel more independent and economically empowered thanks to their phones.

The gender gap in mobile phone usage is most stark in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where women are 37 percent less likely to have a phone than a man.

But the economic opportunities for mobile phone service providers, device manufacturers and applications developers are huge, the report said. Just phone and text service alone would reap $13 billion a year in revenues from the 300 million women not connected to mobile devices.

By Cecilia Kang  |  March 2, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  International , Tech for Development  
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