US secretary of state Hillary Clinton is backing a GSM Association (GSMA) campaign to put more mobile phones in the hands of women in developing markets.
Clinton and Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK prime minister Tony Blair, are championing the scheme after research found 300 million fewer women own mobile phones than men in emerging countries.
The gender gap is costing the industry $13 billion in incremental revenues each year, and means many women are missing out on the social benefits mobile services can bring, the GSMA revealed.
Blair told the BBC that phone ownership could provide women with financial independence and boost literacy.
The GSMA aims to halve the gender gap with its mWomen Program. The scheme will target women living on less than $2 per day, and tackle other key barriers to adoption including technical literacy and cultural differences.
GSMA chief Rob Conway said he hoped the program “marks the beginning of close and continued efforts to empower and enable women.”
Mobile phones have “proven to be a major driver for good in society,” and have brought “life changing benefits to those most in need in the developing world,” he said.
The project has already secured backing from 20 leading telecoms companies covering 115 developing markets, including AT&T, Bharti Airtel, France Telecom, Telenor, Telefonica and Vodafone.
Nokia has also signed up, agreeing to supply data on barriers to adoption gleaned from its Ovi Life Tools services.