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The GSMA estimates that women are 10% less likely than men to own a mobile phone in low and middle-income countries. This equates to a ‘mobile gender gap’ of approximately 200 million women deprived of the benefits of mobile ownership1.

Owning even the most basic mobile enables a woman to communicate, access information, learn, manage her finances, set up and run a business and even get help if feeling threatened. Mobile technology also enhances many public and commercial services of value to women and girls in emerging markets, from accessing vaccinations and maternal healthcare, to mobile banking and online support for smallholder farmers.

Our 2025 goal

We aim to connect an additional 50 million women living in emerging markets to mobile

Closing the ‘mobile gender gap’

Communications technology plays a critical role in empowering women to improve their lives and livelihoods.

Mobile technology also enhances many public and commercial services of value to women and girls in emerging markets, from accessing vaccinations and maternal healthcare to mobile banking and online support for smallholder farmers.

200 million women experience a mobile gender gap

It is estimated that in low and middle-income countries, women are 10% less likely than men to own a mobile phone. This equates to a ‘mobile gender gap’ of approximately 200 million women deprived of the benefits of mobile ownership1.

Access to mobile technologies can empower women to improve their lives and livelihoods

Our progress in bringing the benefits of mobile to more women

We estimate that 119.8 million of the 334.5 million active customers we serve in emerging markets are women. However, this only represents 36% of our customer base, and a disproportionate number of women in these markets still do not own a mobile phone.

We want to bring the benefits of mobile to women through a series of targeted commercial programmes. In 2016, we set a goal to connect an additional 50 million women in emerging markets to mobile. To reach this target, we are committed to using our mobile technologies to enhance the quality of women’s lives through programmes that:

  • support education and skills;
  • improve health and wellbeing; and
  • enable economic empowerment.

We have made progress towards our goal and now have an estimated 119.8 million active female customers, 6.4 million more than last year (and an increase of 19.4 million since 2016). To contribute towards our goal, we have launched new commercial propositions for customers focused on helping women in emerging markets overcome the barriers they face in reaching their full potential. These include Vodacom’s Mum & Baby initiative in South Africa, Vodafone Idea’s Sakhi safety plan and our Business Women Connect programme in Tanzania and Mozambique.

Across our networks

  • 6.1 million more active female customers than last year
  • 37.1 million customers using M-Pesa, 16.9 million are women
  • 1.5 million subscribers to Mum & Baby service in South Africa

Estimated number of female customers in emerging markets (millions)

2016201720182019
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Supporting education and skills

Enabling girls and women to access a good education can enhance their chances of thriving in life, yet many girls in emerging markets enter adulthood lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills. An estimated 132 million girls worldwide are out of school, including over 34 million girls of primary school age2.

Mobile technology increases access to quality education, especially for people living in remote areas. Vodafone Foundation has pioneered the development of innovative digital teaching and remote learning technologies for deployment among some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in the world, including people living in refugee camps in sub-Saharan Africa. Its Instant Network Schools programme connects classrooms to the internet, providing remote and isolated communities with solar power, tablet computers and teacher training resources, together with access to educational content. Run in partnership with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the Instant Network Schools programme has given over 83,500 young refugee students access to a quality digital education.

An estimated 132 million girls worldwide are out of school, including over 34 million girls of primary school age

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Empowering girls through mobile

Across the world, millions of girls lack the information, connections, tools and services they need through mobile. Many of the everyday issues that affect them – relationships, contraception and gender-based violence – are often too sensitive to talk about openly, if at all. Boys are also one and a half times more likely to own a mobile phone than girls3.

Improving health and wellbeing

Estimates show that at least half the world’s population lacks access to essential health services. Most of these people live in low to middle-income countries where access to services for screening, prevention and treatment is often limited or non-existent. Rural poor, especially women, are particularly deprived of such essential services.

Through Vodafone and Vodafone Foundation, we have developed a range of mobile technologies that enhance primary healthcare and prevention services in emerging markets. Many of these programmes are particularly important for women and young children.

Woman reading a book

Increasing access to health advice for mums, dads and carers

According to UNICEF South Africa4, 4,300 mothers die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth each year, 20,000 babies are stillborn and another 23,000 die in their first month of life. Research shows that good access to reliable health information plays a crucial role in reducing maternal and infancy illness and mortality. In addition, many people in South Africa face long queues to receive health advice for themselves and their families and often have to travel long distances to reach a clinic, especially in rural areas.

Making healthcare more affordable in Kenya

In Kenya, only one in five of the population has some form of financial protection from healthcare costs*. Safaricom’s M-TIBA is a service that allows anyone to send, save and spend funds specifically for medical treatment using their mobile phone. Money stored in M-TIBA can only be used to pay for treatment and medication at M-TIBA-registered clinics and hospitals.

Tackling domestic violence and abuse

Vodafone Foundation has more than a decade of experience developing mobile services to support victims of domestic violence and abuse. This includes the TecSOS technology, which has supported more than 100,000 high-risk survivors of domestic violence in five countries, along with Easy Rescue, which has supported over 300,000 women in Turkey, and gender-based violence hotlines in South Africa and Kenya, which have connected over 300,000 women to help during crises.

This year, Vodafone Foundation commissioned research to explore the impact of domestic violence and abuse in the workplace. In response to the issues highlighted by the research, Vodafone Foundation announced the international expansion of Bright Sky, a free app that provides information and advice to those affected by domestic abuse. Created in partnership with the UK-based crisis support charity Hestia, the app enables users to locate their nearest support centre. A short questionnaire also helps users assess the safety of a relationship and provides information about different forms of abuse and the types of support available.

Helping women to feel safer in India

In India, there are over a billion mobile connections, and while almost half of the population is female, only 59% of them own a mobile phone5.

Finding ways to improve access to financial services and support entrepreneurship will bring significant social benefits and economic opportunities

Enabling economic empowerment

More than 2 billion people in the world, most of them women, still have no access to banking facilities, and women have less access to financial services than men in 40% of the world’s countries. Finding ways to improve their access to financial services will bring significant social benefits and economic opportunities.

In 2007, together with our Kenyan associate, Safaricom, we developed the first mobile money transfer service, M-Pesa. This is a simple, secure, cheap and convenient solution now offered to customers across eight markets: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, India, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique and Tanzania. The service enables customers to safely and securely send, receive and store money via a basic mobile phone and, more recently in some markets, using a smartphone app.

With M-Pesa, women can take greater control over their own and their family’s finances. For example, in Kenya, research estimated that with mobile money access through M-Pesa, 185,000 women have been able to switch from subsistence farming to business or sales as their primary occupation. In addition, the research also found that M-Pesa has helped lift 194,000 households, or 2% of Kenyan households, out of poverty.

We estimate that 16.9 million women were actively using M-Pesa in 2018, accounting for 46% of our M-Pesa customer base.

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Supporting businesswomen in Tanzania and Mozambique

Since 2016, we have built on the success of our M-Pesa money transfer and M-Pawa money saving services. We are a partner in Business Women Connect (BWC), a service specifically designed for women who run micro-businesses. Created in partnership with the ExxonMobil Foundation, World Bank and Centre for Global Development, BWC enables women to save and access useful business skills training, delivered by the NGO TechnoServe.

Supporting female entrepreneurs

In addition to financial services, Vodafone’s networks and technologies support businesses of all sizes, including entrepreneurs. For example, research commissioned in Ghana by Vodafone found that 70% of micro-entrepreneurs would face difficulties continuing their business without a smartphone. This constant connectivity allows entrepreneurs to connect with customers, search for new business ideas and track competitors’ prices.

Vodafone also supports female entrepreneurs through local Vodafone Foundation programmes. The Vodafone Institute in Germany developed F-LANE, a seven-week acceleration programme for high-potential digital impact ventures and the first accelerator in Europe aimed exclusively at women. The programme’s mission is to foster the participation of women in technological development and to empower women of all ages around the world through technology. In the most recent round, 180 start-ups from 57 countries were identified for consideration and review. The final five applicants took part in the full programme of support, which included mentorship, training, networking and funding.

Women First in Entrepreneurship

Through Vodafone Turkey Foundation’s Women First in Entrepreneurship programme, more than 36,000 women have received training on entrepreneurship, communications and finance. Once trained, they can use their new skills to make and sell handmade items on a bespoke website. Launched in 2015, the programme is run in partnership with the Ministry of National Education and the Turkish Informatics Foundation.

Our contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Our approach is contributing to SDG 5

SDG 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

We are also impacting SDGs 4 and 8

SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

SDG 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Find out more about our contribution to the UN SDGs
SDG 4: Quality education SDG 5: Gender equality SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure SDG 13: Climate action

We believe we can have the greatest impact on five of the UN SDGs through our networks, products and services and through the work of the Vodafone Foundation.

Communications technology can play a critical role in empowering women to improve their lives and livelihoods. Through providing women with access to life-enhancing services, which help unlock socio-economic opportunities and championing the inclusion of women in the workplace, Vodafone is committed to SDG 5. Our approach also aligns with SDGs 4 and 8, as our mobile technologies also support improved education outcomes and drive financial inclusion.