Women's Annex Uses Bitcoin to Empower Women Bloggers in Afghanistan

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About 25,000 people around the world are being paid in Bitcoin on a regular basis by posting content on Women's Annex, a blogging platform predominantly focused on Afghanistan, and its parent site Film Annex.

Obtaining a bank account in Afghanistan is a struggle for women, says Fardina Alemyar, a 17-year-old from Herat, Afghanistan who started using Women's Annex to blog about women's issues in the country 10 months ago.

With Bitcoin, "now it is…easy because I just create a digital wallet and the money goes to my account," Alemyar says.

"There are certain problems in developing countries in banking systems," says Fereshteh Forough, co-founder and board member of the Women's Annex Foundation, the company behind the blogging platform.

When Women's Annex relied on wire transfers, the fees were higher and money could be delayed for months if information about the sender and receiver were inaccurate or copied incorrectly by the intermediary banks, Forough said. She used to send wire transfers from the U.S. to her organization's co-founder, Roya Mahboob, in Afghanistan. Mahboob would then travel around the country delivering the cash payments to content providers.

"This was a big security problem for [Mahboob]," says Forough. "If people understood that she was carrying a lot of money it could have caused a lot of problems for her."

Before the blogging site adopted Bitcoin, Alemyar received cash payments by going to the Afghan Citadel Software Company, which was founded by Mahboob and Forough.

Many content creators like getting paid in bitcoin because of the cryptocurrency's pseudonymity. Even though women's rights in the country have gradually improved, women are still chastised for speaking out in some areas. Because a Bitcoin wallet can be created using a nickname, it provides some measure of anonymity.

Because most women in Afghanistan don't want to use their real pictures, Forough says, Women's Annex created customizable avatars to use as profile pictures on the blogging platform.

Women's Annex used to send payments via PayPal to bloggers in many countries, but stopped using the service when it switched to Bitcoin. PayPal does not operate in Afghanistan.

In February, Women's Annex began paying all users in Bitcoin. Women must use the platform for 75 days before they can be paid and have to accumulate at least two tenths of a bitcoin (about $134 in U.S. currency) before they can request payment.

Recently, Women's Annex expanded the shop section of its website, allowing users to convert their bitcoins into gift cards from Skype, Amazon.com and several international phone companies.

There are 60,000 registered users of the Women's Annex blog, of which 6,000 are paid in Bitcoin, says Forough. An additional 19,000 are paid in Bitcoin on Film Annex.

Government regulators have been eyeing Bitcoin since it caught mainstream attention in 2012, trying to figure out how to categorize the digital currency and keep it out of the hands of criminals and terrorists.

"There are many misunderstood issues around Bitcoin, and anonymity is one of them. Every transaction is recorded," Forough says. "Reality is Bitcoin gives us many things that traditional payment systems cannot do and this will give governments and central banks accurate and real time data for the first time." 

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