By Ellen Blackler, AT&T Executive Director – Public Policy
Many days it seems like the job is about trying to get that “unread email” number down to something less embarrassing. Then there are the other days. Last Thursday was one of the other days. I attended the launch of mWomen: Empowering the Base of the Pyramid through Mobile Technology at the State Department. It was an effort sponsored by the GSMA Development Fund with the goal to halve the gender gap in mobile phone ownership from 300 million to 150 million in three years.
The effort spoke to me not just because I got to see Secretary of State Clinton and Cherie Blair in person, but because it addressed a hard problem – supporting developing economies in a sustainable way by addressing a root cause – the empowerment of women. It’s achievable. It uses technology that exists and is commonly used today. And, it’s simple: Get mobile phones in the hands of women.
In developing economies in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, the gender gap in phone ownership is significant. For instance, women in South Asia are 37% less likely to have a phone than men. Mobile phones open up amazing economic, health and educational opportunities. In fact, in GSMA’s study, 41% of the women reported that they had greater income and opportunity from simply owning a mobile phone.
Check out the mWomen website to see some of the shockingly simple and compelling ways a mobile phone changes things for women. One of my favorites is the story of a woman who farms sesame seeds and now gets a text message with the daily price at the market in town. As a result, she is no longer forced to rely on the middle man with no information about the real price. All that opening up of a market from just a simple text message.
There is ample data that investment in women has a positive ripple effect on their families and their communities, and the possibilities of mobile technology are likewise well known. AT&T was an early supporter of the mWomen initiative and it’s exciting to see it start to take off.