Mobile phones, Internet, and gender in Myanmar

December 18, 2017
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Buddhist nuns taking photos of each other in Myanmar.

LIRNEasia

Myanmar remains the third least penetrated mobile market in the world, largely because of the country’s military leadership that tightly controlled media and communications for the past 50 years. As recently as 2004, although broadband networks were readily available in nearby China for US$9.70 per month and in Sri Lanka for US$21.70, in Myanmar the cost of a low-speed connection was US$4,794 per month. In addition, “It cost US$2,500 just to get a SIM card!” says Rohan Samarajiva, chair of LirneAsia, an information and communications technology policy and regulation think tank based in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

As part of the country’s transition to democracy starting in 2010, the Myanmar government sought reforms to begin rebuilding the economy — and telecommunications was a way to deliver quick results. Since then, the percentage of the population with mobile phones has grown exponentially, but women are 29% less likely than men to own a mobile phone.

In partnership with IDRC, LIRNEasia conducted a rigorous survey and analysis focusing on women's access to and use of mobile technology in Myanmar. The results highlight a combination of economic and cultural factors that lead to a mobile gender gap, such as low household income and traditional gender roles. For example, lack of a sufficient income is the primary reason for the mobile access and ownership gender gap, but it is also influenced by women's role as the "chief financial officer" of the family, whereby women put the needs of others who work outside of the home before their own. The study notes that many women do not feel that mobile technology serves much purpose beyond leisure activities and socializing, therefore they don’t justify the diversion of limited household resources toward their own mobile device.  

The report calls for further expansion of networks to increase access to information and communication; adapting technology so that it is more accessible and appealing to women; the creation of applications that are specifically and locally relevant for women; and addressing the barriers to digital literacy.