The emerging field of cryptocurrency is located at the crossroads of finance and tech, two sectors that are more known for being predominantly “pale and male.” But even though cryptocurrency may have a ways to go in terms of diversity, there are a number of ways blockchain tech and digital currencies are already changing the game for women around the world
1. More women are getting paid for their work – and keeping their earnings.
Everyone knows the age-old adage: “a woman’s work is never done”. But perhaps the expression should be “a woman’s work is never paid.” One UNDP study showed that in Africa women make up more than half of the population and contribute to 75% of agricultural labor, and yet they hold just 1% of assets and account for 10% of total earnings.
In countries like Afghanistan, many women are prohibited from working outside the home by male family members. Those who do risk physical violence and having earnings confiscated by their male family members. Roya Mahboob, an Afghan entrepreneur, philanthropist and one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People, solved this specific problem by paying female contributors to her website with bitcoin. Not only were the women paid, but they were also able to retain control of their earnings. Entrepreneur magazine reports that “thousands of small vendors currently accept Bitcoin payments”, and the website 99bitcoins.com even has a tutorial to help sellers on Etsy – an e-commerce site for handmade products with 1.8 million vendors, 86% of whom are women – accept Bitcoin as an alternative form of payment for their wares.
2. Financial services will be easier for women to access
Just 18% of men and women in the Middle East and Africa hold savings accounts, “compared with 89 percent of the population in high-income countries,” reported The Economist in 2014. Worldwide, around 40% of women are considered “unbanked” – a term meaning they lack access to accounts and services traditionally provided by financial institutions – a figure seven percentage points higher than their male counterparts, revealed a more recent study by the World Bank.
“Digital payments can promote women’s economic empowerment by facilitating greater account ownership and asset accumulation and increasing women’s economic participation,” the report continued.
“Payments provided via an account can provide the on-ramp to financial inclusion and in many cases the first account that a woman has in her own name and under her control. Opening an account can be an important first step for introduction to the formal economy for an entrepreneur.”
In countries like Kenya, mobile banking is common and money can already be transferred via SMS, and groups like the Praekelt Foundation are also working to ramp up women’s access to financial products. The organization, which has locations in South Africa, London and New York, recently partnered with the banking platform Stellar to pilot a program that enabled users to turn phone minutes into currency via the existing Vumi app. Blockchain tech could kick projects like these into high gear, by powering more digital money transfers and offering corruption-proof financial security for those assets. In the words of the Praekelt Foundation, improving women’s financial status ultimately “have positive implications for a nation’s education and health outcomes.”
3. Women will have more options for helping their families through remittances
Remittances are a kind of informal philanthropy in which immigrants send earnings back to their country of origin, usually to family members. In the US alone, the remittance industry generates $430 billion dollars per year, with the Philippines and Mexico being largest recipients of funds. But international money transfers can have expensive fees associated with them, are not in real time, and in some cases may be complicated by the legal status of the sender. Blockchain tech would not only make these transfers cheaper and more secure, it would also make the whole process easier on both sides of the equation. Worldwide, women are as likely as men to send remittances and more likely to be on the receiving end of the transfer.
“Right now, Bitcoin is almost purpose-built for the $582 billion international remittances market, where women are half of the senders, and two-thirds of the recipients,” Felix Salmon wrote in an op-ed piece for Splinter News. In the same piece, the writer continues by saying that greater gender parity in Bitcoin/Blockchain will make it even more likely that developers will more fully address issues like remittances that affect women around the world.
4. More start-up capital for women-owned businesses in developing nations
Evidence shows that microloans to women in developing nations have the greatest impact, which is why the microfinance pioneers at Grameen Bank like lending to the ladies. Women use funds better, are more likely to pay them back and tend to adopt healthier lifestyles as their incomes increase. They are also a majorly untapped labor pool, says this article published by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And yet, women are far less likely to receive loans than men, the World Bank tweeted last week.
But Peter Klampka, CEO of Bitcoin Brands Inc, believes cryptocurrencies could help narrow the gender gap when it comes to financial inclusion because of the convenience of microlending Bitcoins by internet or mobile phone.
“With a micro-transaction, I can text you that money and you have it in minutes,” Klampka told Entrepreneur. “It’s fast, cheap and can be universally accepted from anyone at any time.”
5. More start-up capital for women in developed nations
But it’s not just microbusinesses that can benefit from Bitcoin. International coin offerings, or “ICOs” in industry parlance – offer unprecedented opportunities for women to generate serious start-up capital. According to Forbes, “ICOs pose the potential to shift the investment status quo and provide new fundraising opportunities, especially for female founders.”
The same article quotes Jill Richmond, managing partner at ARK ICO Advisors, who said: “For women and others who have been overlooked by Silicon Valley's male-dominated venture capital market, ICOs provide a way for investors to financially participate in the early building of startups.”
And participate they have, despite the relatively high risk associated with this type of fundraising. This year has already brought numerous success stories, from Tezos CEO Kathleen Breitman who raised $232 million last July – “the most ever for an ICO to date,” reported Forbes – to Galia Benartzi who generated a whopping $156 million for her company Bancor in a mere three hours.