Mobile Helping Bridge Gender Gap in Emerging Markets, Panel Says

Mobile phones are creating opportunities for women in emerging markets to advance in business and society, even as they trail men in adoption of the devices, a panel of technology and philanthropy executives said.

Information available on handsets is bridging the gender gap in remote parts of the world, giving women access to health-care information and professional advice, Nelson Mattos, vice president of product and engineering for Europe and emerging markets at Google Inc., said at an event organized by the World Affairs Council and Bloomberg.

Low-priced feature phones prevalent in emerging markets can tap into the Web, helping to educate women and allow them to communicate, he said. More women are getting connected via mobile phones, though not as quickly as men. A woman is 21 percent less likely to own a handset than a man in low- and middle-income countries, according to a report by Vital Wave Consulting.

“Mobile technology is creating opportunities for women that did not exist before,” Mattos said. “Health care is the one that has benefited the most, particularly in remote areas.”

In one study by the Grameen Foundation in Ghana, women used phones to find advice on pregnancy and childcare, Mattos said. Women there incorrectly believed that they should stop feeding when they felt pain in their breasts, he said.

“Imagine the consequences of a two- or three-day old child who is getting nothing to eat,” Mattos said. “They actually managed to break that myth and say, ‘No, it’s exactly the opposite. You should feed so the pain goes away.’”

Broader Access

About 6 billion people in the world have mobile phones, according to the United Nations. While women are slower to adopt new technologies including mobile devices, the number of women who do is expected to grow dramatically in the next few years, Rodger Voorhies, the director of the Financial Services for the Poor initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said on the panel.

“We have to get the right applications and the right empowerment strategies,” Voorhies said. “They’re most vulnerable when they’re disconnected. They’re most vulnerable when they’re not known.”

Women in Saudi Arabia are signing up for Twitter’s Web-based short-messaging service to read news and voice their opinions, said Katie Jacobs Stanton, the company’s vice president of international market development, who was also on the panel.

The technology industry is traditionally male-dominated, yet women in emerging markets are starting to pursue those types of careers. Women outnumber men in some computer-science classes in the Middle East because the professions typically allow them to work in an office or from home, Mattos said.

“Women oftentimes are even more isolated than men in low-income communities,” Voorhies said.

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