Published at: The Daily Star, March 08, 2019
Some 58 percent of adult women in Bangladesh own mobile phones while only 13 percent use the internet, a new study found, exposing the wide gender gap in the digital sphere.
In Bangladesh, 86 percent of men use mobile phones and 30 percent are connected to the internet, according to the GSMA’s 2019 Mobile Gender Gap Report released recently.
The GSMA, commonly referred to as the Global System for Mobile Communications, is a trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide.
Its survey covered 18 countries, with six countries each from Asia, Africa and South America. The findings are sourced primarily from the 2018 GSMA Intelligence Consumer Survey, which has more than 20,000 respondents from the markets.
Bangladesh is found to have the second widest mobile ownership gender gap among the countries covered, with 33 percent of women less likely to own a mobile phone than men. Pakistan has the widest gap at 37 percent, the study showed.
The level of mobile ownership among women in Pakistan is 50 percent while 11 percent use the internet
The report said mobiles were the primary means of internet access in the surveyed markets where 48 percent of women use mobiles to be online.
“Although mobile phone ownership and mobile internet use have increased significantly among women, there is still a persistent gender gap.”
Telecom and ICT Minister Mustafa Jabbar says the core reason for women lagging behind in internet use and mobile phone ownership was rooted in the social structure.
He said parents also play a very important role in not promoting their daughters.
“In many cases, parents are not unbiased to facilitate their boy and girl children. Sometimes, parents allowed their 12-year-old son to use mobile phones, but girls will not be permitted to do so even when she is 18.”
“But, the situation is changing gradually and the gap will narrow within the next few years,” Jabbar added.
The GSMA says it is important for all the stakeholders to take action to deliver the significant benefits of mobile and internet to women, their families, communities and the economy.
“Mobile can be helpful to empower women, making them more connected, safe and able to access information and services.”
Closing the mobile gender gap also represents a significant commercial and economic opportunity, it added.
Robi, the second-largest mobile phone operator, identified two reasons behind the poor situation in Bangladesh.
“Digital literacy and affordability to buy basic or smartphones are the critical factors for woman to take part in a digitally inclusive society,” Shahed Alam, head of corporate and regulatory affairs at Robi, told The Daily Star.
He says Robi was working with the GSMA to identify women subscribers from its base to provide them the opportunity to participate in the digital ecosystem.
Robi is providing digital literacy training to woman in cooperation with the ICT ministry and in partnership with Huawei, with a “digital bus” facilitating training travelling all over Bangladesh.
The gender gap in mobile expenditure in Bangladesh is 51 percent, way higher than 18 percent in China and 19 percent in India, the study said.
It found that Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Mexico are in good shape where women use more mobile phones and internet than men.