Kenya’s women close digital gap

Monday March 9 2015

Kenya's women score above global average in adoption and use of mobile phones. PHOTO | FILE

Kenya's women score above global average in adoption and use of mobile phones. PHOTO | FILE 

JULIET MUTEGI
By JULIET MUTEGI
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A new report released this week ranks Kenya’s women among the most connected in the world.

The report titled, Bridging the Gender Gap: Mobile Access and Usage in Low- and Middle-income Countries’, released against the backdrop of International Women’s day took cognizance of the immense benefits presented by mobile phones as an empowerment tool.

The study by GSMA, a global body that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide and companies in the broader mobile ecosystem examined mobile phone ownership by women, as well as the barriers to mobile phone adoption and usage to ensure that women do not get left behind

The study placed Kenya’s Gender equality at position 37 out of 142 countries surveyed.

Globally, 1.7 billion females in low- and middle-income countries do not own mobile phones and women on average were 14 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, creating a gender gap of 200 million fewer women than men owning mobile phones.

NARROW GAP

Kenya’s registered a relatively small gender gap of 7per cent which the study attributed to the success of mobile money, providing women and their families with a clear reason to have and use a mobile phone.

“Women are frequent users of M-Pesa and use it to a similar extent as men, although they are more often receivers than senders.”

The study found women’s journey to be mobile hit a snag in only in the initial stages but women adapted fast to the landscape.

At the onset women played a small role in selecting their handset or network provider with only 58 per cent of women handset owners report purchasing their own mobile (vs 75 per cent of men) and 72 per cent of female owners vs 79 per cent of men independently choosing their sim.

“In the research, half of the women in Kenya who owned or borrowed a mobile phone declared they had received money and topped up credit through mobile money in the past 7 days with more than 80per cent of women phone owners or borrowers stating they are able to receive and send money and top-up credit through mobile money without any help.”

Similar to men, women owners use various means to top up their credit: 98per cent had used a scratch card in the last 4 weeks, 65per cent had used mobile money, and 62per cent had received credit from another person.

With phones in hand, mobile phone usage remained skewed, with women reporting using phones less frequently than men, most especially for more sophisticated services such as mobile internet.

In Kenya, Women’s use for the phone remained basic as with their counterparts in other countries surveyed. 43 per cent reported using mobile internet (vs 61 per cent for men).

The gap considerably widens in poorer households with only 33 per cent of lower educated female owners (vs 52 per cent of men) reporting using mobile internet.

SMS use is fairly similar among Kenyan men and women 89 per cent women vs 91 per cent for men.

INDEPENDENCE AND CONVENIENCE

Of the thousands of women interviewed in this report across 11 countries: 89 per cent said mobile phones help or would help them stay in touch with friends and family; 74 per cent said mobile phones do or would save time; 68 per cent of women reported they feel or would feel safer with a mobile phone;58 per cent said they would feel or felt more autonomous and independent; and at least 60 per cent of women said mobile phone ownership saves or would save them money claiming that a mobile phone helps or would help make running errands either more convenient or less expensive.

Women reported cost of handsets, credit, and battery charging as a barrier to owning and using mobile phones. Prohibitive costs meant that some women could not buy or upgrade their mobile phone and limited the services they use.

Technical literacy and confidence is a greater barrier for women than men in Kenya with gender disparities more apparent in poorer households. 43per cent of women (vs 28per cent of men) reported trouble reading and understanding their mobiles as a barrier.

Women are also more likely than men to need help learning to use their phones especially with mobile internet.

Network quality and coverage was cited as the greatest barrier reported by both Kenyan women and men in both urban and rural areas: 53per cent of urban women and 54per cent of urban men report this as a barrier, compared to 61per cent of rural women and 61per cent of rural men.

The report found that achieving parity in ownership and use between men and women in low- and middle-income countries could bring socio-economic benefits, such as the availability of new education and employment opportunities, to an additional 200 million women; unlock an estimated US $170 billion market opportunity for the mobile industry by 20202; and deliver a positive economic contribution to society.