The below was prepared by Ayesha Zainudeen and Helani Galpaya of LIRNEasia, based on findings from a GSMA Connected Women-LIRNEasia study on mobile phones, internet, and gender in Myanmar. It originally appeared as a case study in the 2015-16 Affordability Report.
By March 2015, just over a year after liberalising their ICT sector, 40% of Myanmar’s population between the ages of 15-65 owned a mobile phone. Yet, women were 29% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. To understand the reasons for this gender gap in mobile phone ownership, GSMA and LIRNEasia conducted a qualitative study among 91 men and women in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and Pantanaw, a small town in the southwestern part of the country.
The research showed that women in Myanmar play a prominent role in the management of household finances — even if they do not earn anything themselves — and are frequently involved in the financial decision to purchase a mobile phone for the family. Yet women’s access to this family mobile phone is often limited because the phone tends to travel outside the home, with the person who is deemed to need it the most. Since activities outside the home are more often undertaken by men, this mobile access and usage gender gap is exacerbated. As such, getting a second mobile phone into the household (which has a higher likelihood of staying inside the household) seems key to increasing women’s access and usage.
The top two reasons among women for not owning a mobile phone — lack of affordability or need — are connected. “Not needing” a mobile is relative to the cost-benefit trade-off of purchasing an additional phone for the household. Many women without a mobile phone said that they don’t “need” one because they do not leave the house for work or studies. Though many would like to have their own mobile, they felt that even if they did buy one, the top-ups would be unaffordable because they are either not earning an income, or are earning a lot less than the male household members. The clear preference for particular high-end brands of smartphones was also a factor, since many women were willing to delay the purchase until they could afford a particular brand.
In addition, many women do not see spending on mobiles as a priority compared to other more pressing needs of the household, partly as a result of having limited experience with mobile phones. Even among women who already use or own a mobile, many did not possess the skills or knowledge to expand their current use to potentially valuable data services and usually relied on others (primarily men) for instruction.
In Myanmar, closing the mobile gender gap and realising the associated social and commercial benefits will require stakeholders to focus on the two main barriers: 1) improving affordability and 2) increasing technical literacy.