Many women in Afghanistan have been paid in Bitcoins in recent years – because they were not allowed to have a bank account. After the Taliban came to power, the cryptocurrency turned out to be a godsend.
Ten years ago, the Afghan businesswoman Roya Mahboob started paying her employees in Bitcoin. Most women in Afghanistan did not have their own bank account at the time because they were not allowed to open one or because they did not have the necessary documents. Little did she suspect at the time that the cryptocurrency would mean the ticket out of the country for some after the radical Islamic Taliban came to power.
Mahboob, one of the first Afghan company bosses and named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by “Time Magazine” in 2013, founded the charitable foundation “Digital Citizen Fund” together with her sister. Thousands of girls and women learned basic computer skills in their centers in the cities of Herat and Kabul. In addition, some of them wrote blogs and produced videos for which they were paid.
In the beginning in cash, which quickly turned out to be a problem. “It was simply impossible and not at all safe to send cash to everyone. But mobile payments were not yet so widespread, and options like PayPal didn’t exist back then,” recalls the 34-year-old. “Then all of a sudden we heard about Bitcoin.”
“It was easy to use, cheaper, and safer than other options,” says Mahboob. “So we taught the girls how to use it and started paying our staff with it. We told them it was an investment in the future.”
About a third of the almost 16,000 girls and women who took computer science classes at the “Digital Citizen Fund” also learned how to set up a digital wallet, a crypto wallet. They were also able to learn how to trade and invest in Bitcoin and Ethereum, another major cryptocurrency. Several of these women left the country after the Taliban conquered Kabul on August 15 and used their crypto assets to build a new life abroad, Mahboob says.
The relative anonymity and accessibility of these crypto wallets not only enable Afghan women to flee and settle in new countries with their families. Bitcoin and other cyber currencies are increasingly used by people without access to the official banking system in conflict areas or in countries with weak government structures, according to finance and technology experts.
“In failed or fragile states, cryptocurrencies offer people a way to support family members,” explains Keith Carter of the National University of Singapore School of Computing. “Cryptocurrencies promote the development of a digital infrastructure where there is none by increasing the demand for digital services.”
Farhan Hotak, 22, helped his family flee to Pakistan from the southern Afghan province of Zabul. He later returned to look after the family home and post video blogs for his 20,000+ Instagram followers. During the corona lockdown, he spent most of his time online and started investing in cryptocurrencies. “It’s a good alternative for me and for others like me,” says Hotak.
He often posts about the topic on Instagram and was also able to inspire some of his friends. “I would like to set up a crypto course for Afghans so they can understand everything better and it really helps them,” he adds. “Until then, I’ll be talking about crypto in every province I visit.”
Bitcoin & Co still have a reputation for funding shady machinations. But for Mahboob and her students, the crypto currencies represent a lifeline despite all the problems. In retrospect, the entrepreneur regrets that she did not push the topic of crypto currencies even more emphatically before the Taliban offensive. More Afghan women could now have crypto wallets and access their money. “The human traffickers and kidnappers will always find a way to abuse a system. But the power of cryptocurrencies is greater. It is of particular benefit to women and those who do not have a bank account, and it empowers them.”