Can Bitcoin Help Liberate Girls in Afghanistan?

Bitcoin may bring financial independence of a sort to Afghani girls.

Bitcoin in Afghanistan

Fereshteh Forough is a woman on a mission. The cofounder of Code to Inspire wants to educate women in Afghanistan, enabling them to get jobs in technology – and be paid in bitcoin.

From Afghanistan herself, Forough studied computer science in Berlin, before returning as a professor computer science in Afghanistan. She started Code to Inspire as a non-profit organization dedicated to educating female students in Afghanistan, with a particular focus on technology skills.

It was to teach young women to code so that they can become freelance technology professionals, and perhaps even start their own companies.

Forough has a heavy focus on bitcoin, having created something similar back in early 2014 for an organization then known as the Women’s Annex Foundation. "The original Women’s Annex Foundation project is still underway. They still have the centres running, and the girls are blogging and still getting paid in bitcoin,” she said.

Now, she wants to repeat the project with crowdfunding, and is still committed to raising literacy among Afghani girls.

Literacy is still low among Afghanis in general, but particularly among women there. Much of the problem stems from the local culture, said Forough, explaining that young women are often not allowed to travel outside downtown or to live with other people.

If women get the chance to go to University and graduate, they can often find it difficult to get a job in computer science.

Even if they are allowed to teach, they will be unlikely to be allowed to teach technical skills.

Code to Inspire hopes to create a network of local labs that teach women the skills that they need to increase their opportunities. The idea is to create a safe place for women to learn how to code, setting them up for work via the Internet.

The labs will be free of charge, she said, adding that she hopes to enable 50 young women to learn technology skills over the next year.

“Our targets are girls studying in schools from grades 9-10. We pick girls with an intermediate knowledge of English and computing,” she said, adding that web site design, animation and graphics also feature highly on the labs’ curriculum. “We try to encourage them to select computer science as their majors when they graduate from school.”

Bitcoin plays an important part in Code to Inspire’s operation, just as it did in its previous incarnation. One of the biggest challenges facing young women in Afghanistan is that ownership of money is a contentious issue.

Financial independence

Often, if a young woman is paid in cash, then she will be required to give the money to her family, Forough explained. This made it difficult for women to have their own funds. Bitcoin solves that problem, she explained, because it is difficult to track, and only the payee knows how much they have received.

 “With Code to Inspire we try to cover the concept of cryptocurrency like bitcoin,” she said, explaining that it features heavily on the curriculum. “The one part of the curriculum is the technical aspect, and the other part is the cryptocurrency,” she continued.

“Women can start making small businesses using this currency, and do what they want with it. It’s an empowering currency, especially for women.”

That may be true, but at the moment, it is very difficult to use bitcoin within Afghanistan. Women who are paid in bitcoin can buy non-physical goods online, such as software, electronic magazines, music and ebooks. However, there are no local exchanges, and few physical stores that accept it, decreasing its utility in the area.

The lack of individual postal addresses for regular houses also makes it difficult to buy things online and have them delivered, although Forough is considering using a centralized holding address that could be used as a collection point for delivered goods.

Nevertheless, this is a start. Forough continues to plow ahead with her crowdfunding project, which takes donations in dollars or bitcoin, and which aims to raise $20,000 by the end of July 2015.

The project receives all of the funding even if the goal is not reached.