Waiting for new smartphone programs like Android One to bring the four billion global citizens who still don’t have internet access, and put ebooks in the hands of the developing world? Well, for the female half of that four billion, you may have to wait more than a little while longer. That’s according to the GSMA Connected Women Global Development Alliance program, which has just released a report on “Bridging the gender gap: Mobile access and usage in low- and middle-income countries.” According to the report, “based on primary and secondary research conducted by Altai Consulting,” with primary field research “conducted in 11 countries,” women are on average 14 percent less likely than men to own a mobile phone, but in some areas – South Asia especially – this figure rises to 38 percent.

As to the reasons for this disparity, the report cites: “cost, network quality and coverage, security and harassment, operator/agent trust, and technical literacy and confidence.” Furthermore, and very tellingly, “social norms and disparities between men and women in terms of education and income influence women’s access to and use of mobile technology, and often contribute to women experiencing barriers to mobile phone ownership and use more acutely than men.” Systematic social disadvantage for women magnifies the impact of issues like technical literacy, no matter what Android One and others are doing to bridge the gap in these areas.

As a result, the global smartphone industry is missing out on a huge opportunity – but women in the developing world, and those broader developing-world economies, are missing out on far, far more. “Ensuring women in low- and middle-income countries own and use mobile phones on par with men could unlock an estimated $170 billion market opportunity for the mobile industry in the next five years and contribute to economic growth in these regions,” the report continues, adding: “Mobile phones deliver substantial socio-economic benefits for women. Mobile phones are valued by women as a tool that enhances their lives, making them feel more autonomous and connected, able to access new education and employment opportunities, and save time and money.”

So all the opportunities to put literacy, educational, and other programs into the hands of some 1.7 billion women are hanging fire, and the gender divide continues to reinforce itself.


  1. In my experience, based on women as friends, quite a bit of this so-called “gender divide” is actually “gender choice.” Women typically value different things than men and, as a result, make different choices about their lives. Smartphones, for instance, have become heavy, clunky things ill-adapted to smaller female hands.

    The real coercion that’s going on is being done by those who regard the adult male as the Ideal Human and attempt to force everyone else (particularly women) to conform to that model. Clear away the fluff, and that’s what is being described above. Women must use smartphones in the same numbers and in the same way as men.

    Step back and look at the larger picture. Stated concisely, the totalitarian impulse used to be either economic (communism) or racial (Nazism). Those have utterly failed. Now it’s sexual and the results aren’t pretty either.

    The new impulse even has what the other two had and what the Germans call Untermensch (subhuman). For communism, it was the Kulak or successful small farmer who opposed collectivization. For Nazism it was the Jew, whose talents made nonsense of claims of Aryan superiority.

    For this new sexual madness, it’s a child, whose very means of coming into existence makes abundantly clear that men and women are different.

    We should never forget that there is an “isness” to our world that no amount of rhetoric, strident demands, and coercion can alter. We must adapt our societies to who we are as humans and not attempt to impose cruel dogmas with their accompanying Untermensch and demonization.

    Years ago, in my The Pivot of Civilization in Historical Perspective, I described how this difference between H. G. Wells (coercion) and Joseph Conrad (acceptance) lead to a breakup in their friendship. Take note that the issue that divided them is sex-related rather than economics or race. Even then this new rationale for regimentation was being promoted.

    Perhaps the most telling criticism of Wells came from the pen of another of the twentieth century’s great writers, Joseph Conrad. Their friendship began accidentally. In May of 1896, Conrad wrote to the unsigned reviewer of one of his books only to discover that the reviewer was the already famous Wells. An unequal friendship developed between the two men, one famous and one not yet famous. At first, even making allowances for that inequality and the necessity to please someone who could make or break him as a writer, Conrad seemed quite taken with Wells’ books, claiming in one early letter that he was “held by the charm of their expression and their meaning. I surrender to their suggestion . . . and I am convinced by the logic of your imagination so unbounded and so brilliant.”

    By 1902, however, doubts began to intrude. Responding to a lecture that Wells had given on “The Discovery of the Future,” Conrad stressed his “rooted idea” that “The future is of our own making.” Wells, he suggested, should have stressed that more, if indeed that was his view.

    Between 1902 and 1904 Wells revealed more clearly how he believed the future was to be made, first in a series of articles on “Mankind in the Making” serialized in Fortnightly Review (Britain) and Cosmopolitan (United States) and later in a book with that same name.

    In the fall of 1903, having seen a copy of what Wells had written, Conrad wrote a letter in which he tried to convince himself that, “Our differences are fundamental but the divergence is not that great.” He illustrated his point by drawing two sets of lines. In the first pair, the W (for Wells) line wiggles up and down, sometimes crossing the C (for Conrad) line, but never diverging far from it. That, Conrad said, was what their “convictions are like.” In the other, which he said did not illustrate their convictions, the two lines diverge rapidly apart never to return together.

    A few days later, Conrad wrote again. Trying to be helpful, he warned Wells that he had begun to address a “select circle . . . leaving the rest of the world outside the pale.” He also warned that he will be accused of wanting to create an elite “who look at the world as a breeding place.”

    Of course that was exactly what Wells wanted to do and by the end of 1903, Conrad seems to have realized that, at one point telling Wells, “There is a cold jocular ferocity” about how he handled mankind “that gives me the shudders sometimes.”

    Throughout his life, Conrad retained many of the beliefs of his childhood in Catholic Poland. By 1906, he was no longer trying to reconcile his beliefs with those of Wells. Like others, Wells linked his desire to set up a scientific elite who would determine who could have children with his desire to abolish all codes of sexual behavior. In a novel entitled In the Days of the Comet, Wells used the passing of the earth through the tail of a comet to ‘sexually liberate’ society. After reading it, Conrad wrote Wells: “The day of liberation may come or may never come. Very likely I shall be dead first. But if it does come that’ll be the day on which I shall marshall my futile objections as to the matters treated in this book.”

    Perhaps in a last bid to sustain their friendship, Conrad dedicated his 1907 The Secret Agent to Wells, but no correspondence between them after it was published has survived. In early 1918, Conrad would explain to Hugh Walpole, another writer, that his final quarrel with Wells had centered on their differing views about humanity, and that he had told Wells: “The difference between us, Wells, is fundamental. You don’t care for humanity but think they are to be improved. I love humanity but know they are not!”

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

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