Africa’s Mobile Gender Gap: Why Millions Of African Women Are Still Offline

Written by Staff
Erik (HASH) Hersman

African women aren’t online. Although Aissata Fall has a smartphone, the young Senegalese woman is hardly ever online. For her, having internet access on her phone is a double-edged sword. “It’s true that the smartphone is an indispensable tool,” she told DW. “Both professionally and when it comes to staying in contact with family and friends.” But many women don’t have enough money to use the internet. And there’s another reason: “If a married women like me, for example, received angry messages or photos, it can lead to problems with a jealous husband,” Aissata explains. 

There are many women like Aissata across Africa. Some 200 million Africans are still offline — either voluntarily or involuntarily. Only two out of three women own a cell phone and barely one in three uses their mobile data on a regular basis. Seven out of 10 online mobile users are men. This phenomenon is known as the ‘Mobile Gender Gap,’ which is currently at 41 percent.

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Even Nigerian lawyer Yalwati Shuaibu only uses her smartphone to read work emails. “Because of the tedious nature of my job, I close late and the moment I get back home it is my priority to attend to my family,” she told DW. “In the community where I come from, women do not normally use their phones for internet access. Men are using their phones to access internet services more than women for many reasons. The men have more engagements and they are always on the go and pursuing more goals.”

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So where does this gap come from? A report from the GSM Association (GSMA), which represents the interests of mobile network companies worldwide, cites four main causes: illiteracy and a lack of internet knowledge, unaffordable mobile data, irrelevant content, and a lack of security.

“Being able to use a mobile phone and being able to access the internet requires certain skills, including literacy, as well as digital skills,” Agnes Odhiambo from Human Rights Watch told DW. “And if you look at education on the continent, many women fall behind men in terms of literacy levels. The other thing is that cell phones are not particularly cheap. A woman in my village was given the option of buying a mobile phone or buying a goat to invest for her family. Some providers charge as much as seven shillings ($0.07, €0.06) [for mobile data] which is way less than a dollar, but for families who are struggling to raise a dollar a day to survive it can be very difficult.”