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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 184 million women deprived of the benefits of mobile ownership1.

The transformative effects of mobile technology for women living in emerging markets are well recognised. Owning a mobile phone for the first time can enhance a woman’s physical and economic security, education, skills, access to employment opportunities and her (and her dependants’) health and wellbeing. Our goal, therefore, is to close that ownership gap between men and women over the next seven years.

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.

184m 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 184 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

A disproportionate number of women still do not own a mobile phone. In 2016 we set a goal to connect an additional 50 million women living in those markets to mobile.

We have made significant progress towards our goal and now have an estimated 113.7 million active female customers, 13.3 million more than 2016. To contribute towards our goal, we have launched commercial propositions focused on women living on low incomes, such as our Business Women Connect programme in Tanzania and Mozambique, and Vodacom’s Mum & Baby initiative in South Africa. Read more on these programmes below.

Progress towards our 50 million additional women goal

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

More than 2 billion people around the world, most of them women2, still have no access to banking facilities3. This makes it difficult for them to manage household finances, save or run a business. 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. With a mobile phone and an M-Pesa account people on low incomes have more control over their financial affairs while reducing the associated risks of a cash-based society, such as robbery and corruption. M-Pesa is now also widely used to manage business transactions and to pay salaries, pensions, agricultural subsidies and government grants.

Access to M-Pesa helps women take greater control over their own and their family’s finances. They can use it to save money to pay for a child’s education or secure a small loan to set up a home business.

In Kenya, research published this year estimated that 185,000 women have been able to switch from subsistence farming to business or sales as their primary occupation as a result of mobile money access through M-Pesa.

We estimate that 14.9 million women were actively using M-Pesa in 2018, accounting for 43% of our M-Pesa customer base.

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Supporting businesswomen in Tanzania and Mozambique

In sub-Saharan Africa, we are helping women who run their own small enterprises to access financial services through M-Pesa, enabling them to build their resources to grow their businesses and improve their livelihoods.

Improving health and wellbeing

It is estimated that at least half the world’s population lacks access to essential health services4. Most of these people live in low to middle-income countries where access to screening, prevention and treatment services is often limited or non-existent.

Through both Vodafone and the 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. For example, the Vodafone Foundation’s Mobilising HIV Identification and Treatment programme, which uses mobile technologies to improve access to treatment for HIV positive children and pregnant women in Lesotho. Over 139,000 people have been tested for HIV through this programme, with over 2,700 identified as HIV positive and subsequently offered HIV treatment.

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Providing mums and carers with free health advice

Internet access is often the key to finding a job, helping a child get a better education, getting health information, or keeping in touch with friends and family. In South Africa, Vodacom’s Siyakha (‘we are building’) platform aims to lower the cost to communicate while simultaneously seeking to increase access to digital and social connectivity. Designed for people on a very low income, Siyakha offers free access to websites related to education and job searches, and offers lower priced products and services.

Making healthcare more affordable in Kenya

In Kenya, only one in five of the population has some form of financial protection from healthcare costs5. 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.

Building education, skills and entrepreneurship

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 16 million girls aged six to 11 will never even start school (twice the number of boys6) and even more start school but drop out early. In rural India, only around one in 100 girls reach the final year of school7.

Mobile technology can increase access to quality education, especially for people living in remote areas. The 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.

An estimated 16 million girls aged 6 to 11 will never even start school (twice the number of boys)

Helping women take an equal stance in economic life

Vodafone Turkey is helping thousands of women to understand the opportunities offered to them by digital communications technologies, specifically as entrepreneurs. Through the Women First in Entrepreneurship programme, launched in 2015 by the Vodafone Turkey Foundation in partnership with Ministry of National Education and Turkish Informatics Foundation, more than 26,000 women have received training on entrepreneurship, communications and finance.

Supporting digital start-ups focusing on female empowerment

F-LANE, a seven-week acceleration programme for high-potential digital impact ventures, was developed by the Vodafone Institute in Germany as 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 initially identified for consideration and review.

Enhancing women’s livelihoods in rural India

In India, only 26% of women are employed compared with 76% of men . Women running entrepreneurial enterprises face many challenges, particularly in rural communities. Research shows that owning a smartphone can help these businesswomen reach more customers, boost sales and increase their incomes.

Our contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

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 to SDGs 4 and 8, as our mobile technologies also support improved education outcomes and drive financial inclusion.