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Mobile Phones: Changing Girls' Lives One Call at a Time

Last week, my BBC news feed randomly juxtaposed two headlines:

At first glance, these headlines appear unrelated, but in fact they are deeply intertwined. According to the first article a woman in sub-Saharan Africa is 23% less likely than a man to own a mobile phone. In the Middle East, that statistic is 25%, and in South Asia, it is even worse: 37%. This all adds up to the reality that in developing countries, 300 million fewer women than men have mobile phones.

Last week, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, launched mWomen, a new initiative that aims to halve that gap in three years. So why are mobile phones so important? What do they have to do with gender equality? Of course, owning a mobile phone offers women some obvious benefits. Phones can support women-owned businesses and independence; phones can link women to essential health and education information or to services.  

Beyond all this, in a world where one in three women experience some form of violence in their lifetimes, phones can be an essential lifeline for a woman who is threatened or needs help. That’s where the second article comes in. In Kenya, making mobile phones more available and launching a confidential national hotline for reporting abuse have given girls a voice and revealed the rampant problem of sexual abuse by teachers in schools. As a result, over 1,000 teachers have lost their jobs in Kenya. Without access to mobile phones, who would have known? More importantly, what would have changed?  

Reforms that guarantee every girl and young woman is safe at school are necessary—after all, a girl’s hopes for her future are pinned on her education. In fact, I always considered primary education for girls the single most important investment we can make in driving positive social change. Without an education, girls don’t have a chance.  Now, maybe I’m re-thinking that position.

Could it be that a mobile phone is even more fundamental?