Mobiles Can Save India?s Poor Women
Monday, October 31, 2011
India ranks 122 out of 138 nations in the United Nations Development Programme’s gender equality index-and for good reason. Only 65% of Indian women are literate, compared with nearly 83% men. A third of the married Indian women are underweight. Maternal mortality rate is high (450 per 100,000 live births) in part due to inadequate antenatal care coverage. Women now account for 39% of HIV infections, and awareness of prevention and treatment still lags.
Can any technological or communication tool help change the scenario? The answer is the mobile phone. Mobiles are cheap, oral-they do not require users to be literate-and are already in the hands of more than 300 million Indian women.
“Women in India suffer from pervasive inequality and have distinct health, education, and economic needs not being addressed by current institutions and media,” says a research report prepared by Vital Wave Consulting for Vodafone India Foundation with which we work closely. “Mobile phones represent the largest opportunity to address these needs, with 225 million women owning phones and the female VAS (value-added services) market worth $1 billion and growing.”
These numbers are from the first quarter of 2011. There are far more women with access to mobile phones than to the Internet (60 million active women Internet users) or landline phones (50 million women with landline access).
Vital Wave further elaborates: “Female mobile phone owners generally prefer voice and use SMS less frequently than their male counterparts, but female subscribers already send more than 6.8 billion SMS per month.”
An average woman mobile subscriber in India sends 30 SMSes per month, uses voice service of 300 minutes per month and about 40% of women subscribers have found employment opportunities with their mobile phones. According to Vital Wave, “The most basic aspects of mobile phone ownership are already empowering Indian women, with over 90% saying they feel safer and more connected just owning a phone.”