GSMA: The world is getting mobile phones, but women are being left behind

Mobile phone operators have already turned their attention to the developing world, and cell phone penetration rates are rapidly increasingly as a result. However, that doesn’t mean phones are reaching everyone, in every market. Rather, there’s a gender gap emerging in low- and middle-income countries when it comes to mobile phone ownership.

Women are 14 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, according to a new report released today by the GSMA’s Connected Women’s program. However, that’s not the same across the globe. In South Asia, for example, a woman is 38 percent less likely to own a phone than men, although in other regions of the world the the gender gap narrows to single digits.

GSMA women report

Even within a region, though, the numbers can vary widely.

“Even though they’re 14% less likely on average [to own a mobile phone], you see there’s huge regional variances,” said Shireen Santosham, Senior Insights Manager for the Connected Women Program M4D. “In a region like Africa, Niger has a 45% gender gap. Democratic Republic of Congo has a 33%. Kenya has a seven percent, largely driven by m-Pesa. So we have to be careful about the law of averages.”

The Connected Women 2015 survey is a follow-up to the first report GSMA released five years ago on women and mobile phones. That report identified a 21 percent gender gap, but it only surveyed four countries, compared to the 11 in the 2015 update, Santosham said.

“We decided to do this new report because we knew women are underserved and, without data, we’re unsure how to fix it,” she said. “We can say on a high level that we’ve made progress.”

Cost and network quality/coverage remain the top two barriers to mobile phone adoption for women, but one thing that surprised researchers was the issue of security and harassment surrounding phones in low- and middle-income countries.

Cell phones did make at least 68 percent of the female respondents feel safe — but it can also be the number three barrier behind cost and network quality for women phone owners. Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 11.02.15 PM Women were concerned that cell phones would make them theft targets or could subject them to harassment from strangers with no way to stop it.

“I think we need to address this issue, and there are tactical things companies can do,” Santosham said “Because of the fear around harassment, young girls are not getting access.”

There’s a lot of small steps the industry can do from adding a free call blocking service to enabling remote top-ups, instead of having to visit a stall or an operator, that could increase a woman’s feeling of security.

But, it all comes back to the problem of affordability. Women across the globe tend to earn less money, and often aren’t involved or are not the ones purchasing the phones.

In India, 72 percent of males said they made the decisions to purchase their own phones, compared to 19 percent of women.

“Because women globally have less financial control often times than men, anything we do around affordability will affect woman more disproportionately than men,” Santosham said. “When we look at the differences for mobile phone ownership for men and women, it’s a complex problem between economic and cultural issues… This has to do with both poverty and issues around social norms and how women interact. When we think about tackling this problem, there’s no silver bullet. It has to do with issues around affordability.

Y Combinator analyzed its data to figure out whether it’s discriminating

Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s most popular business accelerator program for startups, released data to show it’s not discriminating against women, Hispanic and black founders when choosing what to fund.

It sampled 5 percent of its Winter 2015 applicants to find out their gender and ethnicity. It then compared the demographic statistics to the percentage of companies it funds.

YC found that it funds a comparable percentage of diverse companies to the applications it receives. The numbers aren’t 100 percent bulletproof, of course, since YC didn’t disclose how it drew its random 5 percent sample to represent its application demographics.

However, the accelerator should be commended for making the effort to check its funding tendencies at all and share the data publicly. Almost all of Silicon Valley’s big tech companies have diversity problems, which we compared using visualizations in August.

Here’s the numbers from YC’s blog:

11.8% of the founders who applied were women and around 3% percent of the founders were either Black or Hispanic.

Of the founders we funded in our most recent batch, 11.1% of the founders are women (about 23% of the startups have one or more female founders), 3.7% of the founders are Hispanic, and 4% of the founders are Black.

The accelerator acknowledged that although it doesn’t appear to discriminate in its funding choices, it’s problematic that so few female, black and hispanic founders apply to YC.  “We will continue and strengthen our outreach efforts,” YC partner Michael Seibel said in the post.

DARPA-funded research IDs sex traffickers with machine learning

Carnegie Mellon University is touting a new $3.6 million research grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, to build machine learning algorithms that can index online sex ads in order to identify sex traffickers. The research is part of a larger DARPA program called Memex that aims to index seedy portions of the public web and deep web in order to identify any type of human trafficking on a larger scale.

One of the driving forces behind this type of effort is the simple fact that computers can analyze ads soliciting sex at a much greater scale than human investigators can. However, the press release announcing the DARPA grant noted, “In addition to analyzing obvious clues, CMU experts in computer vision, language technologies and machine learning will develop new tools for such tasks as analyzing the authors of ads or extracting subtle information from images.”

Even prior to this project, Carnegie Mellon said researchers at the university were working on the issue of sex trafficking and developed programs that law-enforcement agencies have already used to make arrests. That’s a reassuring piece of information considering that much university research, even the stuff involving serious issues, has a hard time making its way into the hands of law enforcement or others who can act on it.

Although, human trafficking for sex or otherwise does seem to be an issue that’s bringing together all sorts of organizations with unique abilities to combat it. Aside from the work at Carnegie Mellon, Google is doing a lot of work to identify victims and their traffickers, via targeted search results as well as partnerships with the Polaris Project and Palantir. There’s also Thorn, a non-profit started by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore that uses various technologies to identify cases of child exploitation online.

Davos does data

Big data has gotten very, very big if the elite talking heads at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, are talking about it. And they are talking about it. Sessions include “Decoding the data deluge” and “Personal data: the ‘new oil’ of the 21st century.”

Live stream: The S.F. street protests against SOPA

Anti-SOPA protesters are taking their cause to the streets on Wednesday, with protests scheduled in New York and San Francisco. We will cover the event in San Francisco, which will feature Ron Conway as a headline speaker, with a live video stream.

We need better infrastructure to bridge urban digital divide

After distributing much of the $500 million broadband stimulus program to narrow the digital divide in 2011, these investments should start bearing fruit. But the success faces two challenges: insufficient broadband infrastructure in some low-income areas and broadband adoption efforts that miss the mark.

Study: Social networkers have more ethics problems at work

Employees who are super active on social networking sites have a very different idea of what is appropriate workplace behavior than other workers, and run into on-the-job ethical violations more often, according to a new study published this week by the Ethics Resource Center.