Why the GSMA’s report on the gender gap is awkward

The GSMA has just released its Mobile Gender Gap Report 2022. In the report, it finds that the gender gap is quite large. In Kenya, the gap is 38%, in Nigeria it is 36% and in Senegal it is 16%. The report defines the gender gap as:

One of the key findings is that “women are now 16 per cent less likely than men to use mobile internet, which translates into 264 million fewer women than men”. It sounds really dramatic and 264 million women not using the Internet seems like an enormous amount! 

One of the recommendations of the report is that stakeholders “[u]nderstand the mobile gender gap by improving the quality and availability of gender-disaggregated data, and understanding women’s needs and the barriers they face to mobile ownership and use”. Given the dramatic finding that 264 million women aren’t using the Internet, this recommendation seems a bit ….understated! Surely there are better things we can do to make sure that 264 million women get connected? The GSMA is backed into a corner because of the lack of disaggregated data based on a deficient methodology. There are two issues: 

  • The methodology claims to be nationally representative, but this is really unlikely. To be nationally representative, the sampling frame must be based on censes sampling frames. The GSMA methodology is “predominantly” based on the census as well as several other sources. But this is the problem: either it is based on the census framework or it is not – there is no “predominantly” about it. This means that the figure of 264 million women not connected to the Internet is probably wrong – we just don’t know. It could be more or it could be less. 
  • Aside from the deficient methodology, the report lacks nuance. In contrast to the GSMA report, a World Bank report investigating the gender gap in Zambia said that “[a]vailable data shows that there are gender imbalances in income and education, but the available data also shows that it would be a mistake to assume that there are gender imbalances for all ICTs between men and women.… ICT policies and gender specific ICT interventions will not be able to address income and educational differences, which would need to be addressed by labour, industrial and educational policies and institutions. However, initiatives that make Internet use more affordable and thus lowering the income barrier for men and women would reduce the gender gap in Internet access”. 

Let’s put this in simpler terms that also makes intuitive sense: women have lower incomes and education than men. As a result, they also have lower access to ICTs. But as these income and education gaps lessen, so does the “gender gap”. So, to claim that 264 million women don’t have access to the Internet really overstates and over-simplifies the issue. And this is why the GSMA’s recommendations are essentially around affordability for everyone and there are no concrete gender-specific recommendations. But the GSMA is right about one issue: we need better gender disaggregated data! 

Other news from around Africa
  • National roaming: Telecom Egypt has signed a national roaming agreement with Orange Egypt. This is an example of commercial imperatives driving roaming, which seems a far better approach than a regulatory requirement. 
  • Malawi price hikes: TNM has increased its prices by 20% because of inflation and the devaluation of the Malawian Kwacha. 
  • ICASA and regulatory capture: The former CEO of ICASA has joined MTN as Chief of Staff to the CEO. Mmm, talk about regulatory capture!