Mobile phones are driving a revolution in information, empowerment, and better health in lower-income nations – especially for women – according to a study from the University of Oxford.
Mobiles may be seen an irritant in the west, as people complain about the negative societal impacts of games, texting and tiny screens. But, the peer-reviewed Oxford paper, which has recently been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that, access to mobile phones is associated with lower gender inequalities, enhanced contraceptive use and lower maternal and child mortality. Although these effects are global, the link between mobile phone access and the social development indicators is stronger in the developing world.
It may not be what multi-billion-dollar phone manufacturers intended, but the study shows ownership of mobiles has become a vehicle of empowerment for women in poorer countries
It may not be what multi-billion-dollar phone manufacturers intended, but the study shows ownership of mobiles has become a vehicle of empowerment for women in poorer countries. According to the study, ‘Women who own a mobile phone are better informed about sexual and reproductive health services and empowered to make independent decisions.’
The study team looked at the relationship between mobile access and multiple indicators linked to global sustainable development in more than 200 countries between 1993 and 2017. They further used survey data from over 100,000 women from seven nations across Sub-Saharan Africa to analyse the individual-level impacts of mobile phone ownership.
One of the authors, Professor Ridhi Kashyap, of Oxford’s Department of Sociology and Nuffield college, said, 'This paper shows that mobile phones, especially when they are placed in the hands of women, have a significant impact. These impacts are larger and more meaningful in the context of the least - and less-developed countries, where women face greater barriers to accessing information...Placing mobile phones in the hands of women, thus, is important for the sustainable development goals linked to gender equality and population health and well-being.’
These findings highlight the importance of mobile technology for bolstering social development, but also the need to close digital divides. According to the lead author of the study, Dr Valentina Rotondi from Oxford’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science and Nuffield college, ‘Our findings highlight the importance of investing in cheaper and equitable access to mobile connectivity, enabling independent mobile ownership, and focusing on ICT skill development, especially among women.
Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus...said that the quickest way to get out of poverty right now is to have a mobile telephone
‘These measures can forge a promising pathway for attaining sustainable development. Our study provides large-scale empirical evidence for the words pronounced in 2003 by Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus, at a conference on poverty and ICTs, where he said that the quickest way to get out of poverty right now is to have a mobile telephone.’
Professor Kashyap maintains, ‘Significant gender inequalities in mobile phone access still exist across the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. This study highlights the urgent need to address these inequalities to be able to realise the empowering potential of the technology.’