Can Mobile Phones Empower Women?

The mWomen initiative, launched by Hillary Clinton, aims to provide 150 million women around the world with mobile phone technology.

Across all countries a woman is 21 percent less likely to own a phone than a man. Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South Asia experience above average rates, with the latter at 37 percent. The mWomen initiative looks to reduce the gender gap by 50 percent in the next three years.

Supporter of the initiative Cherie Blair, wife of Tony Blair, explains the need for a phone. “It can help with literacy. It can help with health programs and projects and it’s a way of helping women develop small businesses and get financial independence.”

“With a mobile phone, expectant mothers who live nowhere near a clinic can get health advice,” Clinton said at a press conference. Another example is that victims of sexual violence in DR Congo who live in rural areas with no court system can send messages to towns where there is a judiciary as well as take photos and sound recordings for evidence.

According to one survey by the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), 41 percent of all female business owners in developing countries had higher earnings because of their phone. Samanthi from Sri Lanka who sells charcoal stoves reports, “It’s really difficult to do business without a mobile phone…My customers can contact me anytime, from any place.” In addition, 93 percent reported feeling safer with a phone, and 85 percent reported feeling more independent. 

However some women in Egypt have voiced reservations about the program. Sahar al Mougy, prominent feminist and professor at Cairo University calls the program “terribly simplistic and commercial,” contending, “The huge discrepancy that exists between men and women can’t be solved by the ownership of a mobile…It’s all good for the mobile companies that more women will possess more mobiles, it means more customers”

Additionally, Al Mougy disagrees with the idea that a mobile phone brings safety. “If a husband beats his wife she is not going to call for help because she has been brought up to think that he has the right to do so.”

Nihad Abul Koumsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, explains, “Owning a telephone is positive because it gives women a space to communicate with the outside world and greater access to education…But for women in Egypt, a mobile can be compared to a dog leash: her family constantly calls her to know where she is…And if she is unable to answer or in an area with no network, she could find herself in a very unpleasant situation once back home.”

Instead, what is needed is more schools and training programs as well as a “cultural rennaisance” to change the expectations and norms that disenfranchise women.

Claire Cranton of GSMA acknowledges that “A mobile phone is not a silver bullet that will cure all the problems surrounding gender inequity; however it is a tool that has the potential to make life changing information and services available to the whole world.”


jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

Any way of empowering women is good. I just don't like the profit motive I see here.

Christopher Lestat

In some situations ignorance is bliss.

Jose Ramon Fisher Rodrigu

Is the mobile phone company's goal to empower women or to get them to spend mony on their mobile phone bill?

Jane H.
Jane H7 years ago

I can see both sides now, and don't know what is best

Charlene R.
Charlene Rush7 years ago

To what school of learning did the 10 & 8 percent go?

Of course, cell phones empower any person who has one. The reasoning is obvious.

Yes, there can be drawbacks, but the overall advantage outweights the negatives.

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS7 years ago

Re the poll question: Can a mobile phone empower women?

Yes and no. It depends on the woman and on her circumstances.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L7 years ago

Anything is worth a try.

Steve R.
Steve R7 years ago

Pray tell - why the picture of a Muslim woman? Is there some kind of message in that?

You'll have the radical right saying "Oh goody - now they can set off bombs from the other side of the world".

I hope Hilary Clinton will be paying for those 150 million cellphones - and not the American taxpayers. Because no doubt, they will be give FREE in many cases.

Gotta love politicians driven by greedy corporations, elected by the gullible bleeding sheeple.

Drina R.
Drina R7 years ago

How much money is Hillary Clinton getting from the cell phone industry? It's basd enough that she's a long-time shill for Monsanto (the "frankenfood" pushers), now she's promoting unsafe technology for women in developing nations. Cell phones cause cancer and hurt babies. (How many kids have to become autistic before the parents will stop giving them cell phones to play with?) The only positive research about cell phones and microwaves is directly funded by the cell phone/microwave industry itself. Independent scientific studies show that this technology is harmful and deadly. God help us all. People need to wake up and stop frying their brains. And stop listening to Hillary Clinton.

Liz Edwards
Joan Edwards7 years ago

What good is a cell phone if you can't use it? In those backward countries where democracy does not exist, men will not allow their women that control. In some countries I wouldn't doubt that if they were caught with a c-phone they would be severely reprimanded.
"Off with their heads!"
If women want freedom they will have to stand up and fight for it. In unity we stand; in separation we fall.