Manu, a 32-year-old woman in Panchkula, went about her nightly chores: cooking food, serving dinner, and putting her child to bed.
When she was done, she left her bedroom, switched on her laptop, and entered a secret world of inscrutable words.
Shiba Inu, Battle Infinity, Lucky Block, Stellar Lumens, Ethereum, Terra, Dogecoin, Trumpcoin, Bitcoin. She was looking at a live cryptocurrency chart.
It’s not just men in suits in cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Gurugram who are interested in cryptocurrency. Women in small-town India are also trading crypto now.
“Mama sees graphs on her phone,” her two-and-a-half-year-old child has started saying. It’s because she can’t look away from crypto charts and graphs, Manu said.
While Manu is new to the world of crypto and blockchain, she began trading equities and options when she was pregnant.
Cryptocurrency, though marketed and promised as a democratic, decentralised tool to control money without a middleman, has so far been stereotyped as something for “tech bros.” But women are carving out their own space: several crypto exchanges in India have registered huge spikes in the percentage of women users, especially in small towns.
It signals money and mobility in their hands, and a willingness to take risks like never before. The astronomical numbers might just reflect the earlier absence of women on these platforms — but it also indicates that more women in small-town India are taking a step towards financial independence and dignity. Popular Indian crypto exchange WazirX has a user base of 10 million, of which 15% is women. Sharekhan estimates that 20% of active traders on the traditional market are women.
“Women who want to learn about cryptocurrency are mostly those who had to stop working because of their family or children, or those who have been homemakers all their lives,” said Shraddha Nanchahil, who runs Money Magnet, a Ludhiana-based financial services company that teaches trading.
“Women grasp things quicker than men. Risk management and money management is something we don’t need to work on with women — because they’re already conscious of it,” Nanchahil said.
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What women want
One of the most attractive things about the crypto market is that it operates 24/7. Women can log in at any time to trade—freeing them from having to make a choice between trading and managing their home duties.
“I usually trade when I’m free at night,” said Shreya (name changed), a former banker who lives in Lucknow with her 1.5-year-old daughter.
It’s also a way for women to make money while at home. The pandemic forced 28-year-old Arsh, who used to work as a laboratory assistant researching plant diseases, to go remote.
“In India, my friends don’t really believe in crypto. They don’t think I’ll make much money, but the truth is that I’m earning 5-6% returns while trading at home,” said Arsh who moved to Canada with her fiancé.
Learning about crypto was almost like a rite of passage to fit in better in Canada, according to Arsh. Many of her fiancé’s friends and their wives in Canada are “into crypto,” and Arsh hopes to be able to discuss things with them. “But they’re all into investing, not trading…still, they might need my technical analysis,” she added.
She learned about Elon Musk from her fiancé, who she said takes her financial advice now. “I feel like I’ll fit in better in Canada,” she said. “They talk about crypto as a source of passive income, so it’s something I definitely see myself doing even if I start working.”
Crypto also helps bring women financial dignity. Lissy (name changed), who now works in Bengaluru, has been educating her family in Nagercoil city, Tamil Nadu, about cryptocurrency. “My folks are homemakers and intuitively good at managing money, but averse to taking large risks,” she said, adding that her aunt is now choosing the right coins to invest in rather than continuing her traditional savings.
“They now speak about crypto within their circles, and especially to people with a city exposure—they can talk at par with them and hold their own,” said Lissy. “Now they all have their own crypto wallets.”
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The world of cryptocurrency comes with its own set of cultural rules.
The highly volatile market can go off-balance with a single tweet from billionaire Elon Musk, and new meme coins regularly go from being a joke to highly profitable. It’s why cryptocurrency is often stereotyped as a male-dominated space reserved for men with niche internet cultural knowledge. But this is changing, and rapidly.
“Crypto is a democratised asset class and promotes financial inclusion, and the increasing participation of women is a positive and encouraging development,” said Naireen Ahmed from WazirX, one of India’s leading crypto exchanges. “Many millennials, both men and women, have chosen crypto as their first investment.”
WazirX witnessed a 2648% growth in user signups from Tier-II and Tier-III cities of India. “In fact, (these) cities have driven almost 55% of total user signups on WazirX in 2021, overtaking Tier-I cities which demonstrated a signup growth of 2375%. Women from these (Tier-II and Tier-III) regions contribute to 65% of the total signups,” said Ahmed.
For CoinDCX, 35% of their user base comes from metros like Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata. But 65% comes from cities like Jaipur, Patna and Lucknow.
Over 7% of all Indians own some form of crypto, according to a recent United Nations Trade and Development report. But the lack of clarity around regulation is a cause for concern. The Indian government’s proposed Crypto Bill is yet to be tabled, and allegedly aims to ban all cryptocurrencies as a method of payment in India — except for a select few private coins. It also allows for the Reserve Bank of India to set up an official digital currency — the Central Bank Digital Currency.
Cryptocurrencies are a “clear danger,” according to RBI governor Shaktikanta Das. The RBI, according to Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, wants cryptocurrencies banned.
Plus, international collaboration would be required to ban crypto fully, according to Sitharaman. It doesn’t help that Indian exchanges themselves are under regulatory spotlights — the Enforcement Directorate is investigating crypto firms like WazirX and Coinswitch Kuber for money laundering and violating the Foreign Exchange Management Act.
Also read: Crypto mining can retire fossil fuels for good. Renewable energy projects are the future
Manu was logging into a basic observation session after putting her child to bed.
She was one of four women — and two men — who were taking a class with Shraddha and Money Magnet. The group met at 8:30pm on a Monday and got straight to business. They were learning how to track crypto trends.
Shraddha only taught for 20 minutes. The rest of the session was reserved for questions from her students. Usually, her male students talk over the women in her class. But that day, the first three questions were from Manu and two other women. Shraddha’s male student only just about managed to squeeze in his question.
The confidence is still taking time to build — some of the questions were tentative, with her students testing the waters with phrases like “sorry if this is a silly question.” But Shraddha answers immediately, and with conviction. “I’ve seen my women students’ confidence growing through the course. In this current scenario, all my students are comfortable and excited to learn,” she said.
In fact, Shraddha only added modules on cryptocurrencies to her curriculum because of the growing interest among her students. “Women in the Indian market usually stick to safer options in the long run, but there’s something about crypto and the buzz around it. Of course you have to understand the risk first and learn to control your emotions,” she said. The volatility of crypto excited her, but she didn’t expect it to excite so many women across small towns in India.
“Yes, crypto is scary, there are no upper or lower limits like the stock market. It’s risky, but I don’t go overboard with it,” said one of her students. She opened her Demat account with her father-in-law, and the two of them trade on the traditional market together. She’s grateful for his company, but she’s not sure he’ll understand crypto. “It’s like overnight magic for women like me.”
(Edited by Prashant)