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Code to Inspire: Bitcoin Gives Afghan Women Financial Freedom

One nonprofit organization is going above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to empowering underprivileged women in Afghanistan.

Code to Inspire (CTI), led by founder Fereshteh Forough, started an after-school program in January 2015 followed in November of the same year by the opening of its first coding school for girls in Herat, Afghanistan. Forough's aim was to empower half of the Afghanistan population through education to improve the economy, while putting underserved women on a path to financial independence.

Currently providing a safe educational environment for 50 female students aged 15-25, Code to Inspire is helping change the way women are seen in a country where women face barriers among conservative families and extremists.

Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, Forough said it can be challenging to work in an environment where women are not encouraged to receive the same education as their male counterparts.

“Girls in Afghanistan lack safe places to study and learn. Girls in Afghanistan lack employment opportunities, specifically in technology,” she said. “Only 16 percent of Afghan women are employed while 2014 saw only 20 percent of public universities taking in female students.”

In a bid to bridge the gap between female and male education, Code to Inspire’s goal is to improve women’s economic and social advancement in Afghanistan’s growing tech industry. By offering courses in coding, access to technology and professional resources in addition to job placement, CTI students have a greater chance of attaining employment that is both financially rewarding and socially accessible.

“Access to the wealth of the global technology economy enables CTI students to add unique value to their households and their communities, and to challenge the traditional gender roles in Afghanistan with the best argument out there--results,” said Forough.

In a part of the world which has islands of human population separated by forbidding terrain, where safety and security make it impossible for women to travel, and where wired Internet isn’t common, phone coverage is the next best thing. So much so, that according to recent statistics from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, more than 89 percent of the population has telecom coverage with 23.2 million phone users in the country out of Afghanistan’s population of around 33 million.

Not only that, but 51 companies have been issued licenses to provide Internet services while around 3 million people (10 percent of the country’s population) have access to the Internet.

The Internet's universal accessibility allows women the opportunity to work from home; however, in order to do so they have to be able to offer something to potential employers, which is where Code to Inspire is making a positive change.

“In areas where women’s travel can be heavily restricted, the ability to work remotely is a key tool in the push for equality,” said Forough.

Considering that CTI has only been around since 2015, it has managed to receive funding and donations through individuals and corporate donors who believe in its mission to help the women in Afghanistan.

“Last summer, CTI did its first online crowdfunding through Indiegogo where we raised $22,000,” said Forough. “We’ve also received donations from Github, Malala Fund, GooglersGive program, BitFury, and 20 laptops from Overstock.”

Using Bitcoin for Financial Freedom

Of course, once the women graduate and find jobs through the Internet there is still the issue of how they get paid.

In Afghanistan payment processing can be quite difficult. PayPal does not operate in Afghanistan, and while Western Union is available, its fees are very costly. Forough said that to deal with the issue of payment CTI turned its attention to Bitcoin.

“With my former foundation Digital Citizen Fund, we used to pay our content providers in Afghanistan through our corporate partner BitLanders, which was formerly known as Film Annex, in U.S. dollars,” she said. “The majority of users were girls who were too young to have a bank account or they were unbanked, so to make the payment process faster and more reliable, with lower fees per transaction, we switched to paying our users in Bitcoin.”

The use of Bitcoin is an important initiative for Code to Inspire, as it provides women in developing countries with a powerful tool that enables them to connect quickly and affordably with the global economy.

Not only are women in Afghanistan gaining access to an education, but where it is taboo for women to step out of their doors unattended, Bitcoin allows them to fully participate in the world.

Code to Inspire’s objective is financial inclusion, which is not just about having a bank account. For an economy to be inclusive, women need equal access to opportunity, which is where the nonprofit is making headway.

“What social media did for communication, cryptocurrency promises to do for women’s autonomy. In a society that lacks banks, blockchain technology like Bitcoin offers a secure, transparent way to add value,” said Forough. “Most importantly, it affords those marginalized by the brick-and-mortar finance system a chance to participate in the economy on their own terms.”

While it is easy for women in Afghanistan to sign up to access Bitcoin, Forough notes that there are challenges within the country that make it difficult for people to embrace digital currencies.

“There is no platform that can support converting Bitcoin to Afghanistan’s currency,” she said.

This, however, seems to be a minor issue considering the massive strides that Afghanistan has made for gender equality over the past 15 years. Once women were barred from receiving an education, working outside the home or even dressing as they saw fit.

During the Taliban regime there were only 900,000 male students in the country; however, this has now increased to 9 million students including 4.2 million females. Additionally, during the 2014 elections, 40 percent of those who voted were women; and four out of 25 cabinet ministers are now women.

“Thanks to recent technological innovations it doesn’t matter where you are located as long as you can access the Internet,” said Forough. “If you combine education with technology, students will be more innovative and productive so they can access the most up-to-date information and be inspired by the achievements of others.”

The most important thing for Forough is that by working online and getting paid online, the women can become financially independent, a goal that Code to Inspire continues to accomplish.

 

Rebecca Campbell

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