Technology is a male-dominated industry. Not only are tech start-ups mostly run and managed by men, but access to technological devices such as mobile phones is much more limited for women in areas of Asia and Africa than it is for men.
During the last week of February, the largest event on the mobile industry, the Mobile World Congress, arrives to Barcelona to introduce the latest trends and, why not, to try to give an answer to questions like ‘What can the tech industry do to ensure a greater equality between men and women?’ Vision Communication will attend the congress for the eighth year in a row, paying special attention to these questions.
At last year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, an event attended by many more men than women, we learned that access to mobile is fundamental to achieving gender equality. The conference on Connected Women was a gem. Sonia Jorge, Executive Director at the Alliance for Affordable Internet, stated that in urban poor areas, there is a larger gender gap, where one woman owns a mobile phone for every three men, and women are 50% less likely than men to use the Internet. In India, it is 37% less likely for a woman to have a mobile phone. India, where in February 2016, while the Mobile World Congress was advocating the use of mobile technology for greater gender equality, the village of Suraj banned unmarried women and girls to have mobile phones under threat of fine for those caught with one. The excuse behind it was to allow girls to focus on their studies and to help them avoid being misguided.
The importance of owning a mobile phone, especially in the above-mentioned poor urban areas, is essential. “A mobile phone makes you feel safe,” says May Ellen Iskenderian, President of the Women’s World Banking, who also assures that “personal and financial security is related to access to mobile”. This access would allow women to have things as essential as confidentiality on their finances. Iskenderian’s statement becomes especially relevant in a time where mobile payments keep rising in both rich and poor countries. In Kenya, for example, 53% of men say they have sent mobile money in the past, whereas only 39% of women recognize to have done so.
The concern is not only for the limitations encountered by women when trying to access mobile technology, but also for the lack of information on mobile services. In some of these countries, technology is seen as a thing for men, and women feel uncomfortable in situations where they have to ask a man about their options. This is why, as part of GSMA’s Connected Women Commitment Initiative, more women are being hired as sales agents, as a measure to also increase the presence of female customers.
Because of this situation, in order to achieve greater gender equality and to empower women and girls, the Connected Women Commitment Initiative aims to connect millions of women in low and middle-income areas by 2020.
In Europe and the Mediterranean, women face other threats, not related to access to mobile phones but rather to cyber violence and access to jobs in the tech industry. Regarding the latter, as stated by the Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, women account for 9% of European app developers, 19% of and less than 30% of the ICT workforce. If we look at women as technology users, the Advisory Committee alerts “cyber-violence disproportionally affects women and girls.”
After acquiring all this information, the question becomes, are we holding back economic development by perpetuating gender inequality in areas like access to technology? The GSMA estimates that there are currently 200 million fewer women than men owning a mobile phone. And even those who do are far less likely to access services such as mobile Internet or mobile money, services that would clearly increase their socio-economic opportunities.
The Mobile World Congress 2017, which will take place between February 27th and March 2nd 2017, will try to answer these questions through events such as Women4Tech: Reducing The Gender Diversity Gap In The Startup Ecosystem or the Connected Women Networking Reception. Vision Communication will be there, supporting the use of mobile technology and its communication possibilities to achieve greater development in general and, in particular, gender equality. Because at Vision Communication we do #comm4action.
This platform is part of the Axis 1 "Strengthening the capacities of equality actors" of the Priority Solidarity Fund "Women for the future in the Mediterranean" funded by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and led by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, in the framework of the project “Developing Women's Empowerment” labelled by the Union for the Mediterranean.