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Only an SMS Away
Mobile phones can jump-start Indian women’s entrepreneurial opportunities
“Now with all our business converging onto the mobile, and with the mobile making life so simple, I can think of growth without getting stressed. My markets, my vendors … they are all just an SMS away.” -- Sarita, an entrepreneur in Chattisgarh State
India is a country where the mobile phone is seemingly ubiquitous. The imagery of India in the worldwide media tells a story of economic and technological growth but large numbers of the country’s half billion women are being left out of the equation, as is the case in so many other developing and emerging markets.
We have researched this phenomenon and produced a report “Connectivity: How Mobile Phones, Computers and the Internet Can Catalyze Women’s Entrepreneurship.” Globally, 300 million fewer women than men own mobile phones, and in India alone, 90 million women are without the technology. This gender gap represents a significant, untapped market.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) in particular have enormous potential to spur economic growth in low-income societies if they were tailored to meet women’s needs. Yet a large proportion of women do not have reliable and unhindered access to computers, the internet and mobile phones, let alone applications created to help support rural women’s business ventures. Filling this gender ICT gap could help women grow their businesses, become financially independent and have a stronger voice in their societies. Furthermore, it could lead to tremendous economic advancement.
Our study outlines cases where organizations are working together to bring the benefits of ICT to women in India. For example, Sasken Communications Technologies has a new mobile phone application that helps members of rural women’s groups who sell products like honey reach larger and more distant markets than ever before.
This research forms a part of a larger international effort to raise awareness of the benefits of ICT for women in particular. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has in recent years examined a number of ways in which technology and innovation can help economically empower women, and as a result, the societies they live in. The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and GSMA Development Fund first addressed this topic together with research that quantified the gender gap across regions and launched the GSMA “mWomen” program, which aims to close the gender gap by harnessing the collective power of the private, public and nonprofit sectors to improve women’s lives through mobile technology.
The aim of this research is to inform and encourage policy makers and other key stakeholders to do more to connect women with ICTs in such a way that raises their status. The fact is, when women are empowered, everyone stands to gain from their success. However, it will take partnerships across sectors to accomplish something on a sufficient scale to make a real difference to women’s day to day lives.