Mobile phones have contributed in various ways to rural development, from reducing information asymmetry, improving functional networks, to increasing access to services and finance. Yet a digital gender divide exists.
The study examines gender perspectives on the use of mobile phones by the rural poor by identifying their information needs using gender-disaggregated statistics gathered from developing economies in South and South East Asia.
The study is divided into two sections. The first section is an empirical investigation of the digital gender divide amongst the poor from urban and rural perspectives in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Thailand and is representative of the poor (broadly referred to as “bottom of the economic pyramid”) tele-users to understand their mobile phone use and access.
In the second section, the study looks at the results of qualitative fieldwork that sought to explicate and provide greater context to the findings from the previous survey. Focus group discussions from Indonesia and Sri Lanka revealed that women and men tended to use the phone for different purposes and the utility that men and women derived from access and use of a mobile phone varied. In all countries, except Thailand where the chances of mobile ownership are greater for women than men, the study showed that being female negatively impacts mobile ownership among the rural poor. With respect to gender, it was also observed that there is a strong effect of education on mobile ownership, especially in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, although that does not mean that improving education alone would decrease the digital gender divide. From this study, it is clear that the digital gender divide exists and cannot be explained by differences in income, education and/or employment factors. Given that the findings differ from those of other researchers, this suggests that country and local socio-cultural contexts inhibit a more generalizable action plan for reducing the digital gender divide and that there will need to be more country specific policy making.
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