Men own mobile phones two times higher than women in Bangladesh, according to a United Nations Report on the status of Information and Communication Technology adoption worldwide.
While almost 60 per cent men in the country now own mobile phones, the percentage of women owning cell phones is less than 30 per cent, according to the figures presented in the latest annual report of the International Telecommunications Union, the UN agency for Information and Communication Technology.
Women lag behind men in Bangladesh when it comes to mobile phone usage as well, the report showed although the gap in this case is not so much striking. In fact, 81 per cent men in the country use mobile phones compared to 72 per cent of the women.
Bangladesh is actually at par with its South Asian neighbours in terms of such a gender gap as the report reveals that similar difference between men and women exists when it comes to mobile phone ownership in India and Pakistan as well.
When asked about the reason for this trend, experts pointed to the low labour force participation of women in the country.
"Ownership of mobile phones is largely related to a person's financial capability", said Abu Saeed Khan, who is a Senior Policy Fellow of LIRNEasia, a regional ICT policy think-tank.
"Although the readymade garments industry has provided employment opportunities for millions of women, their number, especially in the rural areas, still having no income-generating activities, remains huge", he added.
The International Telecommunications Union in its latest edition of the 'Measuring the Information Society' report also found that Bangladesh continues to have one of the cheapest mobile cellular services in the world.
In fact, Bangladesh's mobile cellular sub-basket is 1.70 per cent of the country's gross national income which translates to US$ 4.14 in terms of Purchasing Power Parity, the second lowest in the Asia Pacific region, the report showed.
Mr. Khan, however, noted that although the call rate for domestic calls is relatively quite cheap in Bangladesh, the rate for overseas calls remains quite high. "This is because the government in this country unfairly regulates the international tariff", Mr. Khan, who is a former General Secretary of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh, said.
Noting that there is a scope for further improvement in the quality of mobile cellular services, Mr Khan said, "One of the biggest bottlenecks for improving the quality of service is government restriction on infrastructure sharing which has created a duopoly on Nationwide Telecommunication Transmission Network services", he added.
ITU has been publishing its acclaimed 'Measuring the Information Society Report' on an annual basis since 2009. The report features key ICT data and benchmarking tools to measure the information society, including the ICT Development Index (IDI).
Bangladesh has in fact stepped down two ranks in this year's ICT Development Index by securing 145th among 175 countries. Last year, it notched the 143rd position in the same ranking.
The report also noted significant gap between urban and rural areas of Bangladesh in terms of cell phone penetration.
While the percentage of people using mobile phone is 87 for urban areas, the same rate goes down to 79 per cent in rural Bangladesh, the ITU figure showed.
"Unlike other ICT services for which infrastructure may not be in place, basic mobile infrastructure is available for most of the global population living in rural areas", said the report in its analysis. "However, rural populations tend to have lower incomes and lower levels of education, which in turn are linked to lower mobile phone usage", it added. Notably, the difference between the rate of usage and ownership of mobile phones in Bangladesh is also large, indicating that many people access mobile cellular services by sharing a device or SIM card.
While the usage rate of mobile phones in Bangladesh is around 80 per cent, the percentage of people owning a mobile phone is only around 40, the ITU data revealed.
The ITU report also revealed that Bangladeshis prefer voice calls far more than short messaging services.
In fact, a Bangladeshi mobile subscriber on an average made 161 minutes of domestic calls per month in 2014, up from 146 minutes of calls they made in 2013, according to the report.
At the same time, the number of SMS sent by a subscriber on an average per month is only 9, up from 7 SMS they sent per month back in 2013.