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GLOBAL and WASHINGTON DC, USA - Last month at Nokia World, we talked about connecting the next billion. This month, we have taken another step in that direction, pledging our support to an important industry initiative, called the mWomen Program. Today, mobile phones are the most widely spread communication tools on the face of the earth. However, women in low-to-middle income countries are 21 per cent less likely to benefit from these tools.

The mWomen program is designed to close the gender gap by a large percentage over three years, increasing access to mobile phones for 150 million women living on less than $2 per day, and using mobile to improve the socio-economic status of women across the developing world, particularly around women’s health, education, finance and entrepreneurship.

Mary McDowell, head of Nokia’s Mobile Phones unit, represented Nokia at the launch event at the US Department of State in Washington DC earlier today where US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Cherie Blair, Founder, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and Rob Conway, CEO of the GSMA formally announced the program.

Given its global reach, especially in emerging markets, Nokia is ideally placed to help reduce the gender gap surrounding mobile phone ownership. Beyond affordable devices, Nokia pledges to share research and work with other committed GSMA members on looking at ways that would help reduce the barriers for entry for women. In addition, Nokia is already delivering tailored affordable services that benefit women – for example, the Ovi Life Tools in China already offers maternal health services – and Nokia promises to look at more such initiatives in the future.

Why’s this so important? Take a look at some of the research findings uncovered by the mWomen initiative:

  • 93 per cent of women reported feeling safer because of their mobile phone;
  • 85 per cent of women reported feeling more independent because of their mobile phone;
  • 41 per cent of women reported having increased income and professional opportunities once they owned a mobile phone;
  • Women in rural areas and lower income brackets stand to benefit the most from access to mobiles;
  • Across all countries, a woman is 21 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. This figure increases to 23 per cent if she lives in sub-Saharan Africa, 24 per cent if she lives in the Middle East and 37 per cent if she lives in South Asia;
  • Over the next five years women could account for two-thirds of all new subscribers.

For more insights into women and the opportunity of mobile, check out the full report.