Mobile phones a boon for Tanzanian women in business, banking: researchers

Residents perform at a mobile phone transaction at a stall within the trading centre of the U.S. President Barack Obama's ancestral village of Nyang'oma Kogelo, west of Kenya's capital Nairobi, July 15, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

By Kizito and Makoye DAR ES SALAAM (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Asha Masoud used to queue for hours to make her monthly bank loan repayment in the bustling Kariakoo area of Tanzania's largest city. Her life changed when she started banking with her fingers using Tigo Pesa, a local application which enables her to make payments from her bank account using her mobile phone. "I don’t have to go to the bank," said the 42-year-old who runs a small kiosk selling foodstuffs like rice and cooking oil. "I even pay my suppliers by Tigo Pesa." Mobile phone ownership has has a significant impact on Tanzanian women's businesses and lives, a recent study led by the United States' College of William and Mary found. Two-thirds of Tanzanians own a phone, but only four in 10 women are phone owners, according to government data. When 60 female small business owners were given free mobile phones, their businesses improved, the study found. "It was much easier for them to obtain market information, such as real-time prices from neighbouring markets on goods they were selling," Philip Roessler, the lead researcher and director of William and Mary's Center for African Development, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Overall this improved their competitiveness as traders." The women also used their phones to get cheaper supplies, to stay in touch with customers, to send and receive payments and for mobile banking, the study found. "The results were striking," said researcher Bondy Matthew. Eight out of 10 African women do not have a bank account, according to the U.S.-based charity Women's World Banking, which uses mobile phone technology to increase women's access to financial services. East Africa has some of the continent's most innovative mobile phone applications, ranging from finding markets for farmers and tracking changing weather patterns, to giving mothers healthcare reminders. The William and Mary researchers worked with Kidogo Kidogo, (Little by Little in Swahili), a social enterprise which uses the proceeds from the sale of Tanzanian-designed smartphone cases to provide poor women with free handsets. "Mobile phones are enablers," Kristen Waeber, Kidogo Kidogo's founder, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via email. "Women with mobile phones feel more independent, secure, and connected." The main reason Tanzanian women do not have phones is because of the cost, Roessler said. Culture also plays a role, particularly in traditional rural areas where members of a poor family share a phone, controlled by the man. "Male 'phone gatekeepers' decide (whether) it is... necessary or appropriate for them (women) to own phones," Roessler said. The study is entering a second phase, studying 400 smallscale female farmers in Tanzania's coastal Rufiji District. Some will receive a mobile phone while others will get about $25, and the impact of each intervention will be measured.