There is a steady movement led by women in developing countries to embrace the use of bitcoins.
From startups like Chain helping developers build bitcoin apps and bagging a $9.5 million investment; New York-based BlinkTrade unveiling its West African bitcoin exchange – UbuntuBitX; and Thailandgetting a start up Coins.co.th; to a nearly 62 percent drop in value at $435.60 from its last year’s peak of $1,150; bitcoin’s oscillation between highs and lows continues unabated.
At the same time there is the Women’s Annex Foundation (WAF), founded by Roya Mahboob and Fereshteh Forough, operating across Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan and Mexico to increase digital literacy with around 60,000 users. WAF connects women to social media to create content and are paid in bitcoin. Interestingly there are 6,000 users from Afghanistan who earn an average of $250 to $400 every month.
Further still there is Alakanani Itireleng of Botswana whose first stint with the digital currency happened while she was looking for online avenues to earn.
Kunmi Otitoju of Nigeria – a Goldman Sachs alumnus with degrees from Howard University and Virginia Tech who launched her Fashion design start-up, Minku, in 2011 started accepting bitcoin as an online payment.
Hearty stories indeed, especially coming from a part of the world where women’s participation and eminence in the economic ecosystem is dismal. While African women comprise 52 percent of the total population and contribute approximately 75 percent of the agricultural work, they earn only 10 percent of African incomes and own just 1 percent of assets according to UNDP.
According to a World Bank study quoted by the Economist more than 1.3 billion women is “largely outside the formal financial system”. This gap is largest in South Asia with 41 percent of men possessing savings accounts compared to only 25 percent of women, who are less likely to get credit either from a bank or informal moneylender. Alarmingly some South Asian countries require the husband or a male family member to co-sign for a woman to get a loan.
So if financial accessibility of a woman is largely governed by cultural implications, can a decentralized digital currency bitcoin be a viable means for a better financial standing for them?
Bitcoin Foundation director who has also worked in public policy as a policy assistant to a US member of Congress, Elizabeth Ploshay says: “Bitcoin absolutely promotes financial freedom to all people around the world, men and women. No one needs a bank account or even access to a bank account to receive bitcoin. Many women around the world are restricted from having bank accounts. Bitcoin is one tool to be able to reach women who have previously been barred from the global financial ecosystem.”
In the regions that WAF works most of the women users do not have bank accounts, mobile money is unaffordable. Facilitating direct payment to users is risky with confiscating money from a woman by family members being common.