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Mobile + Women = Gender Equality and International Development

Learn how the U.S. State Department is working to increase women's access to mobile technologies around the world.

On October 7th, 2010 Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton partnered with Cherie Blair and the GSM Association (GSMA) to launch mWomen Program, showing the United States’ support for increasing women’s access to mobile technologies through public-private partnerships. In addition to the USAID-GSMA-Gates Foundation commitment to halve the global gender gap of 300 million in the next three years, 20 mobile network operators representing 60 countries in the developing world also committed to closing the mobile phone gender gap. Some of the commitments include:

  • Nokia has committed to pilot women's information initiatives under its Ovi Life Tools service, especially focusing on healthcare and education. Nokia will further share elements of its commissioned research into the mobile phone access barriers facing women from a functional design, technological and affordability perspective. Nokia will also work with the GSMA and other committed partners on exploring how to reduce the total cost of ownership and thus increase accessibility, especially for women.
  • Telefonica and the Seattle International Foundation have partnered together to create a female specific tariff for the women of Nicaragua that will also be linked to health and education services.
  • Mobitel’s “She is Recognized” campaign will enhance the lives of Sri Lankan women by increasing mobile penetration. Mobitel will achieve this by launching lifestyle information services for women, through the "She” tariff that will include exclusive voice and broadband rates. Mobitel has further created female-specific customer service solutions so women are able to get the support they need in the best way to suited to their needs.

As we have seen with microfinance in the past, focusing on women and ensuring their inclusion – then in financial networks and today around communication technologies – has powerful and positive impact on changing lives. Further, mobile technologies can increase women’s sense of security and independence, promote literacy and  education, advance women’s access to health, support women’s civic participation and activism, and increase economic opportunities, food security, and income. Thus, women and mobile are a winning combination; however, we must address the barriers to this potential, including issues around affordability and women’s access to productive assets.

As Secretary Clinton remarked, “mobile technology is no silver bullet.” In order for mobile tools to work, many other environmental conditions need to first be in place. The State Department will engage other governments and multi-lateral organizations to identify partnership opportunities and mobilize resources so mobile technology can truly be an equalizer for development and gender disparity.

To read about and watch the launch of the GSMA mWomen Program please visit the U.S. State Department's website.

Wenchi Yu, Policy Advisor, Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues, U.S. Department of State.