GSMA’s Mobile Gender Gap Report 2024 reveals a significant increase in the rate of mobile internet adoption among women in low- and middle-income countries. For the first time, 66% of women in these regions are now using mobile internet, marking an unprecedented high. This surge translates to 1.5 billion women, a stark contrast to the 78% of men who use mobile internet, whose adoption rate has notably slowed over the past year.

Narrowing the Gender Gap
The gender gap in mobile internet adoption has narrowed for the first time since 2020, primarily driven by significant progress in South Asia. This shift brings the overall mobile internet gender gap back to its 2020 levels. Sub-Saharan Africa also witnessed a slight reduction in this gap for the first time in five years, highlighting a positive trend towards gender parity in digital access.

Despite these advancements, women remain 15% less likely than men to use mobile internet in these regions. This disparity equates to approximately 265 million fewer women online compared to men. The challenge remains most pronounced in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, where gender gaps in mobile internet usage stand at 31% and 32%, respectively. These regions alone account for about 60% of the 785 million women who are still not using mobile internet.

Smartphone Ownership on the Rise
The gender gap in smartphone ownership has also narrowed slightly, from 15% to 13% over the past year. Currently, 60% of women in low- and middle-income countries own a smartphone, compared to 69% of men. This reduction translates to around 200 million fewer women owning smartphones than men. Once women acquire smartphones, they tend to use mobile internet almost as extensively as men, highlighting the critical role of smartphone access in bridging the digital divide.

However, the overall gender gap in mobile phone ownership has remained relatively unchanged since 2017, with women 8% less likely than men to own any mobile phone. This persistent gap means that 405 million women in these countries still do not own a mobile phone, presenting a significant barrier to digital inclusion.

Barriers to Adoption
Affordability, particularly the cost of handsets, and literacy and digital skills remain the top barriers to mobile ownership for both women and men. These challenges are more acute for women due to social norms and structural inequalities, such as lower levels of education and income. Despite more than 80% of people in most survey countries being aware of mobile internet, awareness does not always translate to adoption. In some countries, women are 20% less likely than men to be aware of mobile internet, exacerbating the gender gap.

Usage Patterns and Further Barriers
Among those aware of mobile internet, affordability and literacy continue to be significant barriers to adoption. Women face these barriers more intensely, often due to societal expectations and limited resources. Once online, both men and women face further barriers to usage, including safety and security concerns, data affordability, and connectivity issues. These barriers vary more by local context than by gender.

Interestingly, female mobile internet users tend to engage with a narrower range of online activities compared to men, predominantly using social media and instant messaging. Despite this, women are more likely to express a desire to use mobile internet more than they currently do. This sentiment is particularly strong among women in Ethiopia, Kenya, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

Perceptions of Importance
The report highlights a growing recognition of the importance of mobile internet access for both genders. In 11 of the 12 survey countries, 70% to 92% of those aware of mobile internet believe it is equally important for men and women to use it, with minimal differences between genders. However, a small proportion still views mobile internet as more important for men, reflecting persistent gender biases in some regions.