A feminist analysis of Bitcoin

Bitcoin (commonly abbreviated as BTC) is a digital currency that has been live for just over a decade now, since January 2009.

In this time it has blown up from zero to five million users, and currently moves more than $1bn dollars per day.

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency. There are no physical ‘bitcoins’ but rather pieces of code; it only exists online. There is a central database that tracks the buying and selling of BTC called the ‘blockchain’. Interestingly, this means that the movement – buying and selling – of bitcoin is public information, so anyone can see what is bought and sold in real time. However, all transactions are anonymous.

BTC are not issued or backed by any banks or governments, and bitcoin is not a legal tender. It is better understood as a transnational and independent indictor of value – more like gold than a national currency.

The technological and political make up of BTC means that it is inherently decentralised and sovereign. It is only whim to its own rules. As a result of this, it offers the potential to be the most radical democratising and equalising force that financial services have ever seen.

Wences Cesares, CEO of Bitcoin start-up XAPO, commented in an interview in February 2019 that Bitcoin has the potential to ‘do to money what the internet did for information.’

Coinbase bitcoin website stocks Photo by Austin Distel from Unsplash Coinbase is one of a handful of platforms on which you can buy and sell BTC, as well as other digital currencies. Once you have purchased your BTC from a trading site, ​you keep it in a digital 'wallet'.

 

This has especially radical implications for women around the world.

Storing some of your wealth in BTC can protect you from national fiscal disasters outside of your own control. Think of the hyper-inflation crisis ongoing in Venezuela today, for example; the majority of the nation’s savings have been wiped out due to financial mis-management by the government. Through no individual fault, a whole generation of families have become destitute.

And who is most affected by losses of savings and bank or government fiscal failures? The  working population who don’t have assets they can fall back on, and particularly women who are financially dependent on men in their lives.

Women around the world, and particularly in low-income and rural settings, are more likely than men to be constrained in access to capital, are institutionally limited in terms of what jobs they can work in, and often don’t have decision-making control over money in their home. Women are victims of financial domination from the patriarchy, both from individual men in their lives and institutions like banks who govern access to finances.

What is more, in dozens of countries all over the world today, particularly in Northern African and the Middle East, women are still not allowed to be ‘head of households’ or hold their own bank accounts in the same way as men can. BTC offers the potential for women to engage in anonymous and free transactions that no patriarchal financial system can take away or govern.

Interview with Wences Cesares on the transformative potential of BTC, recorded February 2020.

 

Of course, this financial freedom is entirely contingent on the provision of both knowledge and access to the internet to women around the world. Before women around the world are able to claim financial independence they need to be provided with these resources.

This is not to say that BTC is guaranteed to usher in a new age of worldwide financial freedom; the bitcoin project may still fail, or another ‘altcoin’ or blockchain technology may take it over in future years. However, whether it is through BTC or a future invention, the future of blockchain has the potential to be bright for women. We need to be paying attention and educating females around the world so that everyone has the opportunity to benefit.

Unfortunately, significantly more men than women seem to have invested in bitcoin so far.

While the anonymous nature of bitcoin transactions makes it very difficult to identify data on who holds BTC, Coin Dance have found that 86 per cent of engagement in bitcoin trading is currently from men. This gendered slant is also incredibly socio-economically biased; men who have invested in BTC to date tend to be disproportionately globally wealthy.

This may be because men are proven to be more likely to take financial risk than women, and the volatility of bitcoin has put women off from investing.

Perhaps also because BTC is still only generally understood in the niche intersection between tech and finance, which are both heavily male-dominated industries. Information about the potentially transformational nature of BTC has simply not trickled down to enough women. This also a heavily Westernised problem, as information and awareness of BTC is most prevalent in tech hubs of the world such as Silicon Valley.

If we can start to appreciate the radical potential that BTC has to democratise financial services then perhaps it will become common consensus that the most financially vulnerable people in this world – among them rural and low-income women – need to be educated and provided with access to BTC to usher in a money revolution.