Initiative aims to supply millions of mobiles to women

Cherie Blair: "There is so much you can do with a mobile phone"

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A woman living in sub-Saharan Africa is 23% less likely than a man to own a mobile phone, according to research.

This figure rises to 24% in the Middle East and increases again to 37% for a woman living in South Asia, found the study by the GSM Association.

In total, it found, 300 million fewer women than men in developing countries owned a mobile.

An initiative called mWomen proposes to halve this "gender gap" within three years.

The programme, championed by Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aims to provide 150 million women around the world with access to mobile phone technology.

Start Quote

It's really difficult to do business without a mobile phone”

End Quote Samanthi Small business owner in Sri Lanka

Mrs Blair said there were many benefits a mobile phone could bring to women.

"There is so much you can do with a mobile phone," she told the BBC World Service.

"It can help with literacy. It can help with health programmes and projects and it's a way of helping women develop small businesses and get financial independence."

'Essential item'

As part of the initiative, there will be tariffs created especially for women as well as the development of a female-specific handset. It will also create projects to educate men about the positive aspects of women owning a mobile phone.

Samanthi, small-business owner in Sri Lanka: "A phone is an essential item" (video by GSMA mWomen)

Seventeen global mobile phone operators have already signed up to the mWomen programme, pledging more than $10m (£6.2m) between them.

According to a survey by the GSMA, more than half of all female business owners in poor countries reported earning more money because of their mobile phone.

One such woman is Samanthi, who lives in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and has a small business selling charcoal stoves.

"It's really difficult to do business without a mobile phone," she said.

"A phone is an essential item. My customers can contact me anytime, from any place."

'Transformational effect'

Mrs Blair said it was not just the women who would benefit from the initiative.

"If you help a woman set up a business, you're not just helping her, you're helping her children and her family. That has a ripple effect on the wider community," she said.

Samanthi in Sri Lanka agrees- she said that the money she earned could go towards her children's education.

The potential benefits are not solely financial. Reports suggest 93% of women feel safer because of their mobile phone; 85% say they feel more independent.

Mrs Blair was confident the initiative could achieve results.

"If we can reach 150 million women across the world and you multiply the effect of those women reinvesting in their family and in their local community, we are talking a potential transformational effect in development."

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