The following byline article, attributed to Telenor Group’s Mai Oldgard, was published in Bangladesh’s Dhaka Tribune on Sunday, March 8, in honor of International Women’s Day 2015.
Backdrop of Equal Digital Rights
Kofi Annan once said: “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”
In 1995, an unprecedented 17,000 participants and 30,000 activists gathered in Beijing for the Fourth World Conference on Women, that saw 189 governments agreeing to the commitments outlined in what is recognised as the most comprehensive global policy framework and blueprint for action to realise gender equality.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995 covers 12 critical areas that need to be addressed for gender equality, and these are: poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights, media, environment, and the girl child.
Twenty years on, this March 8, communities around the world are celebrating International Women’s Day. While gender equality, admittedly, remains a struggle even in the most developed of countries, there have been significant developments for the empowerment of women — ranging from educational opportunities and enhanced healthcare benefits, to women’s participation in the workforce. The inclusion of women in the workforce and education can lend profound impact on a country’s socioeconomic development and competitiveness. With this in mind, efforts to narrow gender gaps should leverage ICT as an enabler to provide women with resources, opportunities and access to information.
The State of Connected Women
With mobile phone subscriptions reaching seven billion at the end of 2014, and 3.6 billion of these from Asia Pacific, it is astonishing that a woman is still 21 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man in low and middle-income countries. The unlikelihood of owning a mobile phone increases to 37 percent for a woman in South Asia.
If the global gender gap in mobile phone ownership and usage could be closed, the GSMA estimates that it would amount to a $170bn revenue opportunity in 2015-2020. But business opportunities aside, women from low and middle-income countries echoed similar sentiments — that mobile connectivity empowers them to lead a more secure, connected and productive life. While encouraging, it is far from the mainstream attitude in certain markets — among men or women.