LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 AFRICA, TANZANIA: Operators should offer mobile services to women depending on their needs rather than treat them as one category of customers.

That was a major message at a Connected Women event this afternoon.

Omobola Johnson, chair of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, explained that accessibility, education and affordability are all issues when it comes to connecting women but assuming all women have the same requirements exacerbates the issue.

She advised operators to “catalyse the innovation ecosystem to develop content for women”.

For instance, urban women are interested in information around career, fashion and financial management and they are willing to pay for such services.

Operators can use money earned from them to subsidise services for rural women, such as providing them with information on their pregnancies, which has been known to decrease infant mortality rates.

Papa Sow, general manager at Tigo Chad, said the best way to heed Johnson’s advice was to talk to women, as they know exactly what their needs are.

Tigo Chad has successfully piloted an SMS service whereby schools send texts to women when their children reach class, if they fall ill in school or have other issues, and also send their grades at the end of the year.

The idea came through a social entrepreneurship programme and the team at Tigo Chad was sceptical, deeming the idea too simple. However, women in Chad said it was exactly what they wanted, which goes to show the importance of being humble and listening to women rather than coming up with sophisticated ideas that sound good on paper but may not be useful in the real world, Sow said.

As for the future, Anurag Tandon, commercial director at Smart Tanzania, said efforts to teach children IT skills will provide women with expertise in their own homes that they can leverage to overcome fear around adopting new technology.

Johnson said she hoped by 2020 that lower infant mortality rates, the ability for the poor to improve their economic conditions and children doing better in school can be directly linked to better connectivity, and also that there are more women in the telecoms industry.

Today the GSMA also announced that a further nine operators have been added to its Connected Women Commitment Initiative, which focuses on reducing the gender gap in mobile internet and mobile money services.

The operators included Smart Tanzania and Tigo Chad, as well as Orange Mali, Smart Burundi, Smart Uganda, Tigo Ghana, Tigo Senegal, Tigo Tanzania and Zantel.