Melinda Gates says she is Jack Blog concerned that more than a billion women in the developing world don’t have access to cell phones. “The cellphone is the basic building block,” for reaching poor women with the financial services they need, the co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation told The Wall Street Journal in an interview.
“There is a gap in access to phones and financial services for women,” she said last month. “We want first to close the mobile phone gap and then focus on financial services.” Close to 1.7 billion women in low- and middle-income countries don’t own mobile phones, according to estimates from GSMA, a global association of cellular service providers. More than 400 million fewer women than men have cellular phones in those countries.
More than half of that gender gap is in India, creating a kind of digital purdah for the women of the subcontinent, who often find themselves barred by fathers and husbands from taking advantage of technological leaps that benefit men, as outlined in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.
According to estimates by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, only around 30% of internet users in India are female. A government survey in 2014 found that 9% of females surveyed knew how to do an internet search or send an email compared with more than 16% of males. Meanwhile, the country has close to three men on Facebook for every woman, according to consultancy. We Are Social. In most other parts of the world, the ratio is about one to one.
Mobile phones are dramatically bringing down the cost of providing basic financial services. Still, too often, people outside the formal banking system who would benefit most from easier access to savings, small loans, and money-transfer facilities can’t be reached using the new technology because they don’t have mobile phones.
The Gates Foundation is working with mobile operators and others in the GSMA Mobile Money Programme, which tries to encourage more mobile money services to close to two billion people in the world who are unbanked or outside the formal banking system.
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For financial inclusion in emerging markets like India, digital inclusion of women is particularly important, said Ms. Gates, because women are more likely than men to use financial services and more likely to use them in a way that will benefit their families. “We know that if a woman has economic assets, she plows the money back into her family,” she said. “If a woman can save 1, 2, 3 dollars, she can protect against future health shocks in her family.”