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Access to Mobile Phones Opens Opportunities for Women in Burma

Words by Leon Kaye

Only recently Burma (Myanmar) has opened its doors to the world after decades of rule by a military junta. While the rest of Southeast Asia’s economy has surged and its various cultures become more appreciated worldwide, Burma was cut off from the rest of the global community and became one of the world’s poorest nations.

Although opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s freedom from house arrest and the easing of United States sanctions have sparked a rebuilding and return of companies to Burma, women still lag behind men in just about every health and economic metric. Mobile technology, however, can help open new doors for women and girls. One telecommunications company, Ooredoo, has partnered with various organizations to empower women while conducting business in Burma for only less than a year.

Ooredoo (formerly Qtel Group), based in Qatar, launched commercial services throughout Burma in 2014. It has partnered with the mobile telephony trade association GSMA to launch social enterprise programs and apps to focus on women’s health issues and digital inclusion.

Such programs are important because women own mobile phones at a far lower rate than men in low- and middle-income countries — in fact, the discrepancy is as much as 14 percent, according to GSMA. The result is less access to information, diminished chances to participate in the local economy and less personal freedom. Perhaps 14 percent sounds like a small difference, but globally that adds up to 200 million women in emerging economies without digital access.

The situation was particularly acute in Burma, where less than two years ago only 11 percent of the population had access to mobile phones. State control, long the bane of conducting any business in Burma because of incompetence and inefficiency, was partly why the cost of a SIM card hovered around US$200 in 2013. Ooredoo and another provider, Telenor, were granted licenses to operate in Burma last year, and they have a shot at boosting mobile penetration to about 75 percent next year.

Along with its entry into the Burmese market, Ooredoo has launched several education and outreach programs in the country. The company promotes a maternal healthcare app, MayMay, which provides medical information otherwise difficult to gather in Burma. Ooredoo has also sponsored Geek Girls, which supports women interested in writing code and becoming digital entrepreneurs. Ooredoo is only starting to scratch the surface in Burma: Digital literacy is very low now amongst women, but watch for it to rise sharply as residents find new ways to support their families and rise out of poverty in ways unthinkable just a few years ago.

Image credit: Sky89

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is a business writer and strategic communications specialist. He has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. When he has time, he shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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