Impact Pathways - Women and Mobile

Situational Analysis - Context

Despite the rapid growth in mobile telephony in low and middle-income countries in recent years, women are 21% less likely than men to own a mobile phone. This has given rise to a mobile phone ‘gender gap’, where there are 300 million fewer female mobile subscribers than male subscribers in low to middle income countries. As a result, women are less likely to reap the benefits of using mobile phones, such as gain economic opportunities and to empower themselves at the household level, community level and beyond.

Key challenges

Underserved women users

The following outlines the key barriers that underserved women in developing countries face in owning and effectively using mobile phones which have contributed to the mobile phone gender gap:

  • Cost of ownership, including the price of handsets, services and charging
  • Perceived lack of need for mobile phones
  • Cultural barriers, including traditional attitudes towards women’s ownership of productive assets
  • Fear of technology, lack of technical literacy
  • Lack of basic literacy
  • Lack of decision-making power
  • Availability of substitutes (fixed lines, telecentres etc)

Mobile industry

The following outlines the key challenges faced by the mobile industry in providing services to the underserved women’s segment:

  • Lack of in-depth research on underserved women
  • Need for vetted quality life-enhancing mobile content
  • Competing corporate priorities


By overcoming the barriers to effective use and ownership of phones by underserved women, women obtain distinct benefits in terms of access to education, health services and financial services, among others, thus empowering women. Women’s empowerment, as facilitated by mobile phones, is also related to a host of positive outcomes on families and communities, reinforcing the idea that access and effective use of mobile phones provides a conduit through which positive social outcomes can be realised.

Furthermore, the market opportunities associated with closing the mobile phone gender gap are substantial: additional revenues for MNOs are estimated to be $13 billion.

Show more ▼

Enabling initiatives - inputs

Public-private partnerships (Sources : 2)
  • Research and communicate the value of providing life-enhancing mobile phone products services to underserved female segment in developing countries.
Policymakers (Sources : 1)
  • Government strategy and policy that incentivises mobile industry to serve women (i.e. through USO funds)
Mobile industry (Sources : 19)
  • Services developed specifically for underserved women
  • Mobile phones promoted as a life-enhancing and income-generating tool
  • Financial assistance to women to enable ownership
Civil society (NGOs, media etc) (Sources : 8)
  • Financial assistance to women to enable ownership
  • Campaigns/partnerships to improve basic and technical literacy
  • Lobbying to improve access to mobile phones for women
Donors and development community (Sources : 7)
  • Financial assistance for underserved female customers
  • Campaigns to improve basic and technical literacy
  • Funding of enabling initiatives

Ownership and effective use - outputs

Increased ownership (Sources : 8)
  • More women reporting owning mobile phones
Basic communications services (Sources : 8)
  • Text messaging/SMS
  • Voice calling
Income-generating tools (Sources : 20)
  • Market information
  • Business skill and entrepreneurship development
Financial services (Sources : 9)
  • Mobile remittances
  • Mobile banking/savings accounts
  • Improving financial literacy
Learning services (Sources : 7)
  • Literacy and numeracy skills
  • Life skills
Health and wellness services (Sources : 16)
  • Advice on maternal health, child health, sexual health, nutrition
  • Mobile health monitoring
  • Family planning
  • Financial services to support health
Social services (Sources : 20)
  • Support groups
  • Human rights awareness
  • Legal advice
  • Crime reporting (i.e. domestic abuse)
  • News and current affairs
Entertainment & media services (Sources : 3)
  • Games
  • Internet

Development Outcomes and Impact -
Women's economic advancement & power and decision-making


Increased communication (Sources : 18)
  • Women more frequently communicate with friends and family
  • Business networks/communications strengthened
Increased efficiency (Sources : 12)
  • Time/money saved in personal context
  • Time/money saved in business context
Increased access to employment, market and business information (Sources : 9)
  • Women aware of business information, opportunities and strategies
  • Women who are aware of job opportunities
Increased confidence (Sources : 16)
  • Confidence in a business and social context
  • Sense of physical and financial security
  • Feeling safer due to having a mobile phone at hand in case of emergency.
Increased skills and knowledge from life-enhancing services (Sources : 15)
  • Basic literacy and numeracy skills
  • Financial literacy
  • Health


Increased personal autonomy and mobility (Sources : 11)
  • Women more able to make independent decisions
  • More women having the power to make financial decisions
Reduced personal autonomy and mobility (Sources : 8)
  • Invasion of women’s privacy (e.g. monitoring phone conversations)
  • Husbands prohibiting wives to own mobile phone
Increased opportunities for income generation (Sources : 21)
  • Women are able to start or grow their own businesses
  • Women reporting increased ease of transacting business
Improved wellbeing (Sources : 18)
  • More women with own bank account
  • Increased remittances to women
  • Women able to afford better healthcare
Reduced wellbeing (Sources : 5)
  • Women subject to mobile phone theft
  • Women subject to harassment
Increased female leadership in the household (Sources : 8)
  • More influence in household decision- making due to higher earning power
  • Higher share of household income provided by women
  • Greater control over household income, savings and expenditure
Marital conflict (Sources : 11)
  • Quarrels with husband over mobile phones
  • Women experiencing domestic violence over mobile phone usage
Increased civic participation (Sources : 5)
  • Women taking part in political processes and community affairs


Increased economic expansion and financial capital accumulation (Sources : 10)
  • Improved performance of female- headed businesses
  • Increased female income and savings
  • Increased female asset ownership
  • Risk resilience
Improved standard of living (Sources : 9)
  • Women feeling their lifestyle has improved
  • Improved household standard of living
  • Lower crime rates against women
Improved social fabric (Sources : 3)
  • Stronger community networks/bonds
Improved gender equality (Sources : 10)
  • Fair access to productive economic resources and opportunities
  • Equality of pay and treatment
  • Greater respect for women in the community
  • Education attainment of women and children

Key for Impact Pathway

Indicator (Sources : # of data points)
  • Examples of measurement

Contact Us

Have more research, reports, or other forms of evidence to contribute to this Impact Pathway? Send it to us at

Welcome to MDI

You have full access to MDI site over the next seven days. After this, you will be required to register.


Registration Benefits

By registering for free you can:

  • Download data for developing world
  • Access detailed M4D product profiles
  • Receive our bi-monthly newsletter

Register now

If you have already registered, please


Your trial period has now expired. Please register to benefit from free access.

Registration Benefits

By registering for free you can:

  • Download data for developing world
  • Access detailed M4D product profiles
  • Receive our bi-monthly newsletter

If you have already registered, please