Dr Nasser Marafih
Global digital gender divide highlighted at WEF
Davos, Switzerland, January 28, 2013
Telecom operators must do more to address the growing global digital gender divide, said the CEO of Qtel Group, a leading telecommunications company, speaking at a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“We know that ICT is a major enabler for economic growth and prosperity at the individual, community and national level,” said Dr Nasser Marafih.
“We also know that women can be powerful drivers of economic growth, often responsible for the health, education, economic stability and well-being of their families and communities. Yet women are increasingly losing out in the technology revolution.”
Comprising ministers, academics and other business leaders, the group specifically looked at how information technology can be harnessed, in particular engaging girls in computer science, leveraging collaborative platforms and targeting ICT skills gaps.
GSMA mWomen research has shown that there are 300 million fewer female than male mobile subscribers globally and that women comprise nearly two thirds of the estimated untapped market for mobile growth.
Additional data shows that women are 21 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man globally. In terms of getting online, women in low-to-medium income countries are estimated to be 40 per cent less likely to use the internet to the same extent as men.
This digital gender divide is getting worse with a steady increase in the number of women likely to live outside the economic system for a broad variety of reasons. This is estimated to grow to 1 billion - or 25 per cent of the world’s female population – over the next decade.
“If our industry does not rise to the challenge then women around the world risk being left further behind, making the digital gender divide an ever greater problem. Operators must do more to develop services specifically designed for female customers, reflecting what they need and want,” Dr Marafih said.
Although the ideals of the internet are often egalitarian, in practise it can often appear male-oriented and elitist, compounded by other barriers such as access, more limited technical literacy skills; limited understanding of the full potential of mobile devices and services; cultural and social challenges as well as cost.
Overcoming these barriers is critical for women to effectively harness technology and innovation and to accelerate progress in areas such as education, food security, job creation, and public health.
Qtel Group is part of the GSMA mWomen Programme, which aims to reduce the global mobile phone gender gap and enable mobile ownership and more effective usage for women in emerging markets by 2014.
Dr Marafih said: “Our vision is to enrich people’s lives and to make a measureable and valuable difference within the communities and markets where we operate. Consequently we have a number of mWomen initiatives in different markets across our network over the past 18 months which have been commercially successful.
“We have been able to add nearly 3.5 million new female customers in just Iraq and Indonesia, for example. This clearly shows that mobile operators can make a profit while meeting the needs of underserved customers. However we can, should and will be doing much more.”
“By tackling the digital gender divide, we are helping to ensure that women are able to help themselves in terms of their own welfare but also empowering them to the benefit of their families and their communities. But operators cannot meet this challenge alone. A collaborative approach by a diverse group of stakeholders in all countries is required,” he concluded. – TradeArabia News Service