With more than 73,000 Twitter followers, Mónica Taher is an influential thought leader focused on personal finance, fashion and entrepreneurship, who is passionate about empowering women in El Salvador and internationally through Bitcoin.
As a native of San Salvador and technology and economic international affairs advisor for El Salvador’s trade investments secretariat, Taher has played a significant role in guiding her country to lead the world in Bitcoin adoption. In this exclusive interview for Bitcoin Magazine, she shared her thoughts on the big picture of Bitcoin adoption specifically for women in El Salvador, as well as worldwide.
What cultural barriers keep women from thriving in the Bitcoin space?
If you look at numbers in the U.S. within the technology ecosystem, only 24% of those people happen to be women, so it is just a consequence that we’re going to have similar numbers for Bitcoin.
For us in El Salvador and in any other Latin American society, we also have another factor that impedes women from competing at the same level with men: machismo. It does exist, we cannot deny it. It's very hard to penetrate an area that is traditionally male dominated because we're also talking about the finance and banking industries, which are dominated by men. If you add the fact that there are less women on [corporate] boards here in El Salvador, I think it is just a reflection of what we see in technology in general.
Author’s Note: “Machismo” is a heavily-loaded word in Latin American culture and not just the Latin equivalent to the American idea of male chauvinism. Its origins can be tied to concepts that knights were meant to possess as the feudal system was giving way to the Renaissance. Though the concept of machismo did not start as a negative feature for a man to possess, it has attained an almost purely negative connotation in modern Latin American culture. As such, machismo represents “all that is wrong in a man,” according to some contemporary studies, including violence, recklessness and misogyny.
What does a financially-empowered woman in Latin America look like?
Because we’re talking about money and not just Bitcoin, the ideal scenario for a woman in Latin America would look like a woman who is really well educated about her personal finances. She is not only academically educated, but also starts investing at an early age. We grow up with parents telling us “you should save,” but they don’t teach us how or in what financial vehicles. We’re not getting that type of education in elementary school where it should start.
For a society to empower women, there needs to be an educational reform in regards to finances where everybody learns about saving and investing in the real world. Schools prepare people to either fail in society or just to be employees as opposed to teaching how to be entrepreneurs. As opposed to teaching us how to have a nine-to-five job, they should teach students how to run a business. That’s what, for me, an empowered woman in Latin America would look like. More entrepreneurs, women who are more daring about starting a business, who have the ability to access capital and the tools to create wealth.
How can Bitcoin help make that vision a reality?
70% of the population in El Salvador don’t have bank accounts, which is huge. Out of the 70%, the majority happen to be women. How can Bitcoin help them in El Salvador?
Number one, they will have access to digital money because everyone has a phone here. You can be really poor in El Salvador and still own a phone because many get remittances and everybody wants to be online. Data shows that a large percentage of the population owns two phones because it’s very easy to buy mobile chips if you have a cell phone number in Latin America.
Number two, they will have access to more buying power. A person sending a remittance, let’s say to me, is not going to pay extra fees because they’ll be using the Chivo wallet. And I’m not going to be paying any fees either because I’m also going to be using the Chivo wallet.
Author’s Note: There are a growing variety of Lightning wallets besides the state-sponsored Chivo wallet that Salvadorans can use to avoid fees while sending/receiving money from abroad.
So right there, for sending $200 they’re going to save from $10 to $15. That’s money for them! Everybody wants to save. Even if it’s $1 or $5, they want to save. So that’s another thing, more buying power.
Number three, bitcoin opens the door for lower interest rates if they want to get a loan. Right now, if you want to buy a home in El Salvador, interest rates are ranging from 12% to 15% which is ridiculous. Many people cannot buy homes because of that. On top of that, you need to give the down payment and sometimes you don’t have enough assets to show that you can back up that investment, so they don’t give you the loan. Some companies offer loans backed by bitcoin and they offer interest rates as low as 2%. Which rate are you going to take if your options are 12% or 2%? Two percent, of course! Access to housing gives you access to many other things because now you own a home and can work toward a better life.
The fourth point is that Bitcoin really shows and teaches you how to save and how to invest. You can go around the corner and buy coffee with bitcoin, but at the same time you can save that $5 to $10 because you’re thinking, “Oh my God, this thing [bitcoin] is going to go up [in value].” You’re forced to save in a way and it’s teaching people to do that. So there are a lot of advantages. Bitcoin is going to change society, I’m absolutely convinced."
What is your message to Latinas in Bitcoin as they start on their journeys?
Definitely to get educated. We’re seeing what’s happening with academia, the status quo is changing. Meaning that perhaps now you don’t really need to do the four years to get your bachelor’s degree because you can do it online through any institution. There are so many platforms that can help you get hired and start making a lot of money as a programmer or developer. What I would say to women is to definitely get educated. It doesn’t matter if they do it online because they want to save money and don’t want to go to a four-year college. Just get educated on the careers of the future because that’s what’s going to help them have a bigger, more powerful future.
How can social media play a role in educating women on Bitcoin?
I’m pretty vocal on social media, and I really think that more women should do that as well. The more women start talking about Bitcoin on social media, then they’re going to have more followers because women are going to be intrigued about the fact that these women are talking about Bitcoin. And then it’s going to be a chain reaction, a domino effect, more and more women will join. Even if it’s just virtual, at least they’re going to get educated because they’re going to start watching videos and reading comments and putting two and two together. I really think that social media gives us an incredible platform to amplify these messages and all women should do it.
As Tehar makes clear, though Latin American women face unique hurdles on their paths toward leading in the technology and business arenas, they can leverage the benefits of Bitcoin to clear those barriers and usher in a new era of equality in fields traditionally dominated by men. The power of education cannot be understated, as education can create a bright future for girls growing up in Latin America and beyond. And with accessibility to learning via technology at an unprecedented level in history, that future is within reach.
As El Salvador continues to lead the world in Bitcoin adoption, Taher will continue to pave the way for Salvadorans and Latin Americans of all kinds to thrive on the Bitcoin standard.
This is a guest post by Josh Doña. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.