One of the key driving factors in the development of the connected health space has been the telecom revolution over the last decade that India has seen. With more than 900 million wireless subscribers, mobile phones are ubiquitous in India.
An interesting report was recently published by the social arm of the mobile world congress, GSMA Connected Women. This report, titled “Bridging the Gender Gap”, examines how many women in low- and middle-income countries own mobile phones, how intensively they use them, and the barriers to mobile phone adoption and use compared to men.
This report provides interesting insights on how to overcome the gender gap and barriers to mobile phone adoption and recommendations to overcome these barriers. This creates some limitations but also opportunities in engaging with women and their families to induce behavior change in communication.
This is of tremendous interest to us as bringing about an improvement in healthcare delivery using mobile technologies necessitates the availability and ease of use of mobile phones in women. We strongly believe that when it comes to health, it’s the woman who plays a key role in making decisions and influencing health-seeking behaviors and the gender gap in ownership and use of mobile phones in India is an important issue for us to address.
Typically in urban India, most women play the role of care-givers and make health-related decisions for not just themselves and their spouses but also for their children, for their parents and parents-in-law. In our experience as healthcare mediators, we also notice that women initiate more than half the calls to doctors for clinic appointments and clinical follow-ups.
According to the report, there continues to be a gender divide in the ownership of mobile phones, with females in India owning 250 million mobiles. Most women mobile ownership is seen in urban centers (even amongst the poor), in the 14-38 years age group and amongst literate and higher income groups.
Despite these gaps, women ownership of mobile phones has been increasingly consistently over the last decade. Anecdotal feedback suggests a proportional rise in the mobile ownership of rural women as well. In short, the report findings indicate the gender gap in mobile ownership and usage are driven by a complex set of socio-economic and cultural barriers negatively affecting women.
It is, therefore, a necessity for all us to participate in interventions from the industry, policy-makers, and other stakeholders to help close the gender gap in ownership and usage.