Something happened the other day that reminded me about the story of Parisa Ehsas. A woman who is founding a tech startup asked me how to open a business bank account. She’d never had one before. I explained how. In fact, you can find a step-by-step guide here. It’s not too complicated. Nothing could be simpler. Anyone can do it, right? Well, not any woman. Millions of women across the globe have no access to banks because they are women.
It happened here. In 1960, a single woman in America could be refused a credit card and if married, her husband needed to co-sign the mandate. In 2014, according to the United Nations Development Program, 42 percent of the world’s women had no access to banking.
“In 38 countries, including India, Mexico, Pakistan and Uganda, more than 80 percent of women are unbanked.”
No woman may own a bank account in Saudi Arabia. In the United Arab Emirates mothers cannot open accounts for their children, as women are not the ‘natural’ custodians of the young. Across the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia, even if the law doesn’t prohibit ownership, religious and cultural norms restrict or discourage participation.
Consider the power of such a basic tool as a bank account that we take for granted. Removing or preventing access to money is an act of control.
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
And that brings me to the story of Parisa Ehsas. She has a room of her own. As a woman in Afghanistan she lives a life of confinement and isolation shared by millions of women in orthodox societies around the world. She is an exceptional high school student who describes her life as confined within the walls of her bedroom and the walls of her school. In 2013, she convinced her parents to allow her to take an Internet and social media class supported by the Digital Citizen Fund. All of a sudden her world expanded. She began to write and post movie reviews online. Her reviews were popular and a U.S. company called Film Annex began paying her.
But, as is true for almost all women in Afghanistan, Parisa did not have her own bank account. The money she earned went directly to her father’s account. For many women in Afghanistan, and places like it, this lack of independence means they will never have the autonomy to make decisions about their own money. Parisa was uniquely fortunate in that her father did allow her access to the money she earned. But then a problem occurred that led to a liberating change. The Film Annex, tired of the expensive international transaction fees for sending even small amounts of money, started to pay all of their content creators using Bitcoin. One of those creators was Parisa. She created her digital wallet and was paid. A young woman in Afghanistan, she had control and access to her own money.
Parisa’s story, originally told in the fantastic book The Age of Cryptocurrency is just one of the 2 billion stories of adults who do not have a bank account today. Bitcoin, as a leapfrogging technology, can provide banking access to the unbanked faster than any other technology to date.
In case you were wondering what Parisa did with her money, she purchased a laptop. A laptop of her own.