By the end of 2015, around half a billion people in India had cell phones. But most were men. Around the world–even though the number of mobile subscribers keeps quickly climbing–there’s a gender gap in phone ownership. In middle- and low-income countries, around 200 million fewer women than men have a phone.
That’s not just a minor inconvenience. For a poor woman, having a phone can reshape her life–including her ability to save and manage money, as Melinda Gates explains in this video.
Even a basic “dumb” phone can be used to send and receive money safely. Text messages can also help a woman in a rural area get reminders during pregnancy, or help new mothers track a newborn’s health. A phone can make it easier to earn a living, or make a woman feel safer when she’s walking alone.
For mobile carriers, there’s a self-serving reason to try to close the gender gap in ownership: Women could bring in an extra $170 billion in revenue to the industry by 2020. In a new partnership called the Connected Women Commitment Initiative, 75 operators plan to tackle the many reasons more women don’t have cell phones now.
Some challenges are complex, like social norms that suggest technology is more masculine. Others are simpler: The number one reason some women don’t have phones now is cost, since women are less likely to have paid jobs, and if they do, often earn less. One of the first steps for carriers may just be offering cheaper phones and micro-loans to buy them.