How Can Bitcoin Empower Women in Afghanistan and Drive Financial Inclusion? 

Empowering women in Afghanistan through Bitcoin (BTC)n and other cryptocurrencies

As digital finance evolves, many in the fintech industry are hoping that it will reshape how others perceive and use traditional finance tools. With Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the digital financial world looks promising as it points to a world with more inclusivity, convenience, and financial freedom. 

In many emerging markets across the world, financial freedom is not a given. In Nigeria, for example, cryptocurrencies have been on the rise because the general population views Bitcoin (BTC) and altcoins as viable mediums of exchange that can enable them to trade, buy, and transact in their everyday lives with ease. On top of acting as a medium of exchange that does not rely on a corrupt central government to operate, Bitcoin is seen as a strategic and clever way to fund humanitarian causes in Nigeria. 

In other parts of the world, Bitcoin is the ultimate solution to achieving not only financial independence but also to banking the unbanked and the underbanked. In Afghanistan, that is the case. And what’s more shocking about this case is that the unbanked do not equate to just people under the poverty line, but to a whole gender – more than 90% of the whole female population in Afghanistan are unbanked. 

Study on financial inclusion in Afghanistan (Unescap Org, 2019)

Political climate in Afghanistan 

Currently, the Taliban Islamic Movement is the one who holds power and authority over Afghanistan. The country has long been suffering economically and Western countries have not rushed in to help, as several internationally recognized terrorists have been identified as part of the Taliban government. For women and young girls, educational opportunities have drastically declined. 

Per the United States Institute of Peace, there is a massive humanitarian crisis that is ongoing in Afghanistan, with essential resources becoming scarcer and even more difficult for women and minorities to access. With the Taliban’s rule over the country, women’s rights to resources such as education and basic financial services have been heavily controlled. Education was outright banned for women in 2001 under the Taliban rule and is still not a given in Afghanistan. 

Women in burqas entering the mosque
Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, May 2004: Women in burqas at he Blue Mosque in Mazar-e Sharif

According to a Times’ report in 2021, women were barred from setting foot on university and high-school campuses by the Taliban, despite negotiations made by the U.S government in an attempt to change the situation. In a country where the right to education is not a given, we should expect other basic rights to be missing as well. And for women in Afghanistan, the right to the same financial services as men is a concept that might as well be considered “alien.” 

A cry for financial freedom and equal opportunities

This is how Bitcoin enters the picture. According to a 2021 study from Chainalysis crypto analytics firm, grassroots cryptocurrency adoption has been on the rise around the globe, with peer-to-peer transactions becoming increasingly popular. Per Chainalysis’ survey, Afghanistan has the seventh-highest peer-to-peer exchange trading volume in the world. 

A Chainalysis study on the 2021 global crypto adoption index

Yet, women are still disadvantaged in comparison with men when it comes to having access to basic financial services. According to The United Nation’s Human Development Office, Afghanistan ranks 171 out of 188 countries on the human development index. To make matters worse for women in Afghanistan, the economic and income inequality is so severe that “there are at least one or two women who commit suicide for the lack of opportunity, for the mental health, for the pressure they receive” on a daily basis. 

Bitcoin as a solution for Afghan women

This is why Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been welcomed with open arms in developing countries such as Afghanistan. Although they consist of a small solution in light of the humanitarian crisis that Afghanistan is experiencing, Bitcoin can be used as a means to provide women with financial independence and inclusion. They can – and have – also been used as a way for women to remain in control of their earnings. As Bitcoin is digital and lives on the blockchain, it cannot be easily confiscated from women by the men in their lives or the government.

In the case of female entrepreneur Roya Mahboob, who garnered global attention as a result of being the first female tech CEO to have made it in Afghanistan, Bitcoin was the ultimate answer to many problems. She leveraged the cryptocurrency as a way to pay her employees, who were predominantly female. Aside from fighting for her own education, Mahboob later went on to build a tech empire that would strive to give women equal career opportunities as men. Her company Citadel was 85% female. “For every woman at Citadel, this was her first job,” Mahboob shared with Bitcoin Magazine. 

The female entrepreneur taught them how to be financially independent, showing her employees and contractors how to install Bitcoin wallets on their smartphones, how to receive digital funds, and how to back up their savings. 

Why Bitcoin is a crucial factor in a developing economy like Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, Bitcoin is a crucial element, more so than in developed countries. Traders and investors aren’t buying the mainstream cryptocurrency to expand and diversify their portfolios. Rather, their main concern is to preserve the funds they already hold and to keep them out of the Taliban’s control. Even in large cities like Herat, Afghans are worried about their residences being suddenly inspected and raided by the militant group. 

Aside from preserving their wealth against the Afghan Afghani (AFN), Bitcoin serves as a means for Afghans to secure their funds digitally. For that reason, stablecoins such as Tether (USDT) and USDC are also largely in demand. 

Stablecoins, which are generally pegged to the US dollar or to other commodities, are created in a way where the value of the coin undergoes significantly less volatility than other cryptocurrencies. Demand for cryptocurrencies is currently high in Afghanistan. Previously, Afghans would secure their wealth through jewelry or other commodities that they would hide in their homes. But with the crypto boom experienced a few years ago, many have chosen to secure their wealth using crypto, as digital assets enable funds to be stored securely and conveniently on the blockchain. In this case, digital storage enables many to preserve their wealth and stash it in a way where the Taliban cannot seize control as easily.

Buying crypto in Afghanistan

To make matters more complicated, buying cryptocurrency in Afghanistan is no easy feat. On-ramping cryptocurrencies from an Afghan bank account to a crypto exchange like AAX is a task that is nearly impossible. The transaction is therefore ideally conducted with the help of a broker, who can use the traditional Hawala system in Afghanistan. 

The Hawala system consists of a dated way in which funds can be transferred in Afghanistan. According to Fortune global news outlet, about 90% of financial transactions in Afghanistan are conducted through the Hawala system. Money can be sent to contacts in other countries such as Iran, Turkey, and the U.S. In turn, those contacts typically transfer cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and USDT to Afghans’ crypto wallets. 

Financial education as a tool for women in Afghanistan 

Although Bitcoin and stablecoins can be a viable solution for women and men struggling in Afghanistan under the Taliban government’s control, the work has just begun. Roya Mahboob explained in her interview with Alex Gladstein:

 “I can see that our fight has just begun. We need to hold the Taliban accountable.”

According to this female boss, financial literacy and education are key elements – now more than ever. They are the key to programs such as the Digital Citizen Fund, a non-profit organization helping women and girls in developing countries gain access to basic professional tools to move forward. Bitcoin is an essential part of it and with financial literacy comes financial freedom. 

Hopefully, in the case of Afghan women and girls, Bitcoin can be used as a key weapon to break free from the Taliban’s grasp. 

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