Asiacell, part of the Qtel Group, is significantly increasing economic opportunities for women in Iraq through its mWomen initiatives, and has welcomed a visit from the GSMA, the global organisation representing mobile operators, to find out more about Asiacell’s success.
The operator is a member of the GSMA mWomen Programme, which aims to reduce the global mobile phone gender gap and enable mobile ownership and more effective usage for women in emerging markets by 2014.
Asiacell has 3 million female customers, of whom 1.2 million have joined since the launch of mWomen initiatives a year ago. Many of those customers have signed up for its Almas (“Diamond” in Arabic) line of mobile products and services that has been specifically designed for female customers.
Global research shows that access to mobile phones can provide women with new economic opportunities, enable women to combine work with family commitments more easily, and make it easier for businesswomen to reach out to customers and receive payments via their mobile.
From 3-4 September, the GSMA conducted a fact-finding tour of Iraq to learn more about Asiacell’s mWomen initiatives, including Almas. GSMA representatives chaired focus groups with female customers coming from various regions of Iraq. The officials also visited an Asiacell call centre and shop, and met with Iraqi and U.S. government officials.
Lawrence Yanovitch, president of the GSMA Foundation, who led the delegation, said: “Asiacell has been one of the world’s leading mobile operators in this area, demonstrating remarkable success in Iraq and demonstrating the incredible social and economic impact that it is possible to achieve. By developing a product line that addresses the needs of female customers, they have increased the female subscriber base by 1.2 million in one year.”
Since 2011, the proportion of Asiacell’s female customers has grown from 20 percent to 30 percent, and is expected to reach 40 percent by the end of 2012. In one year,1.2 million women in Iraq have been connected to friends and family, and are becoming more socially and financially independent, thanks to their access to mobile technology.
U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer, instrumental in the launch of mWomen for the U.S. Department of State said “Iraqi women are critical to their country’s prosperity and stability, yet they face tremendous challenges to exercising their full potential in Iraqi society.
The mWomen initiative is a unique public-private partnership that is working to close the gender gap in mobile technology. It is enabling Iraqi women to expand their access to vital services and enabling them to grow their capacity. Providing access to mobile technology can support women’s civic participation, increase economic opportunity and incomes; advance access to critical health information, teach literacy, help prevent violence against women and girls and even access financial services.
mWomen’s accomplishments in Iraq are making a difference for the women of Iraq and all Iraqis because when women thrive all of society thrives. The success of this initiative underscores the growing recognition that closing the gender gap, whether in access to mobile technology or in every other way, is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do”.
The Almas line’s features match the needs of Iraqi women for mobile technology. These features include “step charging,” which offers a 50 percent discount after the third minute since women tend to talk longer than men; freedom for women to choose their own off-peak hours; discounted rates for off-network calls; and a free “bye-bye” service that blocks potential harassers from calling or texting.
This service has also enabled the distribution of vital information focusing on women’s health and welfare issues, through a Value Added Services menu with targeted female-focused content.
Dr. Diar Ahmed, CEO of Asiacell, said: “Asiacell’s contribution to closing the gender gap in mobile phone use can be seen and measured, as the number of female customers continues to grow. The next step is to help support and facilitate economic participation through mobile technology, by adding new services and new opportunities for women. We have a strong belief in the power of mobile technology to empower women in being agents of economic and social development.”
As a next step, Asiacell is launching two pilot projects to continue closing the gender gap in mobile service, especially n rural regions, where mobile penetration for women remains in the single digits. These projects include opening stores which are serviced exclusively by saleswomen, and routing Almas customers’ calls to a customer care centre staffed by female customer service staff. This enhanced customer experience will help make customers feel more comfortable.
Asiacell is also partnering with local organisation Asuda, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) which helps combat violence against women, by providing a short code for women to call if they feel threatened. Asiacell continues to work with the NGO with a series of focus groups designed to understand how they can best support women in these circumstances, and what sort of services could make an impact on domestic violence.
The GSMA report, ‘Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity,’ conducted in partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and Vital Wave Consulting in 2010, found that among women who own mobile phones in low- and middle-income countries, 90 percent feel more safe and connected with friends and family, 85 percent feel more independent, and 41 percent have increased their income or economic opportunities.
Across a wide range of governmental and NGOs, there is a growing consensus that the provision of mobile services and applications for women can be cost efficient and can scale all over the developing world, particularly given the reliability and depth of infrastructure provided by operators. With leading companies like Asiacell working with organisations such as the GSMA, there are strong grounds for optimism about the potential for future development.
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