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.

Newsweek designer defends his controversial tech sexism cover

The relaunched version of Newsweek is no stranger to controversy. Almost a year ago, it brought the ire of the internet upon it with its launch story on Bitcoin creator Satashi Nakamoto, to the point where the company had to hire private security for the reporter who wrote it.

This week, the venerable old magazine is seeing another wave of conflict. This time, the backlash concerns cover art used to illustrate the story of sexism in the tech industry. Instead, some believed the image was an act of sexism itself: It features a cartoon graphic of an eyeless women molested by a giant computer cursor. Full disclosure, I’m one of them.

Others disagree, saying the image is “provocative” but that’s the whole point. It brings more attention to the issue. The debate raged yesterday and into today, on Twitter, Facebook, and even The Today Show.

Newsweek larger

As Alexia Tsotsis pointed out, the picture fails a checklist of objectification. The eyeless face makes the woman incomplete; she could be interchangeable for any woman. She is literally being clicked on, as thought she’s an object.

Newsweek editor-in-chief Jim Impoco tweeted that if people read the story they’d understand the picture was a perfect fit for it. Author Nina Burleigh penned a generic, albeit very thorough 5,000 word look at tech’s sexism problem.

All the discussion got me wondering about what really happened and what the artist who designed the woman thinks of the controversy.

So I reached out to Edel Rodriguez, the illustrator who drew the woman. He worked in conjunction with the art directors for the piece, an independent design firm called Priest+Grace which has designed many of the new Newsweek’s cover art. The firm declined to answer my questions, but they confirmed that Rodriguez pitched the idea and drew the woman.

Rodriguez answered my questions over email, and we covered everything from the process of choosing the cover to whether he’d do it again if he could go back in time (an emphatic yes). We only did one round of questions, so we didn’t get to have a back and forth. If you want to hear more of his thoughts, check out the discussion he’s taking part in on Facebook.

How did you come up with the idea/design for the Newsweek cover? Were women consulted in the decision? Was there debate over whether to run it?

I received the assignment from the art director for Newsweek covers, a very talented and smart woman. She sent me the article, which I read, and then proceeded to brainstorm and come up with sketches based on the article. I sent her my ideas and she picked this idea for the cover. I then went ahead and did the final artwork.  The staff at Newsweek received it and designed the cover. Women were involved all throughout the process. I am not sure about their discussions because I was not present at their meetings.

What was it supposed to convey or represent?

The subject of the article is how women are treated in Silicon Valley. It details the sexual harassment, jokes and treatment that women put up with in the industry. The image represents this harassment. A woman should have the right to dress however she pleases without this happening to them. These men have grown up around technology and video games their entire lives. They see women as objects that they can mistreat. The image conveys the exact moment when the harassment is symbolically taking place.

Did you suspect some people would react negatively to the cover or were you surprised?

I assumed some people would have negative reactions to the image, it’s the case whenever one does an image about sexism, racism, or other social topics. Some people will agree with your point of view, others will see it another way. Many women have had good reactions to the cover as well, they see it as showing the problem, which it is. The purpose of a magazine cover is to bring attention to the story and to start a conversation about the topic. I feel it has done that.

What would you say to people who think the cover objectifies women and marginalizes the sexism issue in Silicon Valley?

I would tell them that it’s not my intention and that if they read the story they will understand that the image is illustrating a very real and persistent problem in the tech industry, and that my intent is to bring attention to the behavior of these men.

If you could do the cover over again would you still take this approach?

Yes, absolutely.

What did people not understand about the cover?

That my job is not to be an advocate of what things should be, my job is to illustrate the story. The topic is “What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women”, and, unfortunately, according to the story, this is how many men treat women in that industry.

This explains why no men were using Pinterest

If you ever wondered why Pinterest took off with women and not men, we have our answer. Friday the company announced it had changed its search filtering options so that men could see results catered to their gender.

In the past, when searching for workouts or clothes their feed would fill with pins targeted to women. Since Pinterest’s early users were women, the application spread virally through that demographic. Naturally the most popular pins and pinners are, as a result, for women or by women.

That shut out men who might also find the technology useful but didn’t like the results they were served. Although some people who identify as men might appreciate a more feminine selection, not all would. Take a look at Pinterest’s screenshot on the difference in genders:

The difference in gender searching on Pinterest. Left: Men ; Right: Women

The difference in gender searching on Pinterest. Left: Men ; Right: Women

The new gender focus will appear as a toggle, allowing women and men to search for items of the opposite gender as well. That could be helpful for anyone with more androgynous taste, or it could serve well for gift shopping purposes.

The attempt to make Pinterest appealing to men comes from the company’s new head of brand, David Rubin, who formerly ran marketing for the ultra dude product Axe body spray. He was brought on in part to achieve that goal, and he started by commissioning Pinterest ad storylines to appeal to men and filling men’s home feeds with male products. Frankly I’m surprised it took the company this long to create gender specific search results — it has been around for over seven years, after all.

With the product announcement Pinterest also revealed new statistics, saying that its number of male signups have grown 73 percent year over year. It’s impressive numbers for the U.S. As we’ve covered, in some other countries, Pinterest has actually had a far easier time recruiting men to the application.

Since it’s a user-generated content site it’s demographics tend to build on themselves. The more women — or motorcycle fans, or cooks, or interior designers — are on the site, the more pin will be created that appeal to them.

To kickstart other groups Pinterest has to woo them with product shifts, and it’s doing just that.

Women dominate offline independent work too

Recent research showed that the majority of online freelancers are women. Now, new numbers from MBO Partners reveal women aren’t just dominating independent work online, but actually make up more than half of all independent pros, and they’re highly satisfied with this way of working.

What women want: More online meetings?

A new survey released by remote access company TeamViewer today shows that while both genders predict more online meetings in the future, women see more benefits to the practice than men do and are also more demanding of their meeting hosts. Why is this?

Women make up the majority of online freelancers, study says

If you imagine that online freelancing is mainly the preserve of male techies, it’s time to revise your understanding. A new survey of the sector by consultancy Zinnov reveals women make up 55 percent of the online labor pool, along with other insights.

Are women better suited to the gig economy?

A long-time, female freelancer argues that, though the reason may be nurture rather than nature, women are often better equipped with the skills demanded of independent workers, including empathy, creativity and the ability to accept an uncertain, lower-status work style.