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Society has long been dominated by men – for over 10,000 years and counting, in fact. Patriarchy as a social system first took root around 9,000 BC, when agriculture was invented. Back then, land and property was passed down the male line by default, and so men came to the fore – and have remained there ever since. Centuries on, men are still vastly more likely than women to hold positions of power in both the physical and virtual realms.

But what if we could create a whole new world – one where both men and women have a seat at the table? This is one of the principles underpinning Web3, which is essentially a decentralised, democratised version of the Internet built on blockchain technology, thus dramatically changing the way information is stored and shared.

In this utopian virtual reality, power isn’t wielded by a select few entities, as it is in Web2 – the version of the Internet we know today, where large corporations provide services in exchange for users’ personal data. Instead, ownership and control lie with the masses, and decisions are made as a collective. And for some women, this represents a chance to level the playing field and build a more equitable society for all.

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More equal opportunities

However, the truth is that Web3 is still very much a boys’ club. Take the cryptocurrency industry, for instance. While bitcoin is aimed at encouraging financial equity, less than 5 per cent of crypto Entrepreneurs are women, according to crypto platform Crypto Head. Crypto exchange Gemini also states that three in four crypto holders are men. This gender gap is also all too apparent in the NFT economy: Research firm Arttactic notes that only 16 per cent of NFT artists are female, and that male creators represent a whopping 77 per cent of art sales.

That’s not to say that there aren’t prominent women in this space. In Singapore, there are entrepreneurs such as Daphne Ng, co-founder and CEO of Dedoco, a next-generation MaaS (Management as a Service) platform that leverages blockchain technology to help companies protect their data privacy and document security.

She’s also a professional council member of the Global Fintech Institute, and sits on the board of SGTech (the trade association for Singapore’s tech industry) as the lead for its Web3 and blockchain work group. “Personally, there are actually many female Web3 leaders and peers I know globally, across Asia and the US. But there is more publicity for projects that happen to be led by men,” she says. “Perhaps media outlets can strive to profile Web3 female leaders and female-led projects more.”

A seat at the table

Indeed, male founders, creators and thought leaders dominate the news cycle when it comes to Web3. Forbes’ list of the richest crypto and blockchain billionaires in the world is entirely made up of men. Likewise, in Entrepreneur.com’s ranking of top figures in crypto, all 10 people profiled are male.

This is reflective of the gender imbalance at the top of the ladder – blockchain and bitcoin first gained traction in the tech and finance industries, both of which are male-dominated, so it comes as little surprise that in these listings, the majority of senior leaders presiding over the Web3 landscape are men

In a relatively rare instance of a female trailblazer being featured in the news, Singapore fashion photographer turned NFT artist Shavonne Wong made headlines earlier this year after Hollywood actor Idris Elba purchased his first three NFTs from her Love Is Love collection, a series of couple portraits featuring virtual models. It’s a major accomplishment for the 31-year-old, who only started dabbling in NFTs last year.

Personally, there are actually many female Web3 leaders and peers I know globally, across Asia and the US. But there is more publicity for projects that happen to be led by men.

Daphne Ng, co-founder and CEO of Dedoco

“When Covid-19 hit, I decided that if I could not work with real models, I would just make my own. I then spent the rest of 2020 learning 3-D so I could create realistic virtual models,” she explains. “In early 2021, my husband told me about NFTs, and it felt like a really fitting space for my digital artworks, so I decided to check it out. I was very fortunate that right from the start, I was able to find some success in selling works, so I just dove right in.”

Like Daphne, she notes that there are already “smart and talented” women in Web3, including Ariana Waller, founder of US-based NFT marketplace Mueshi, and Laura Shin, a crypto journalist and podcast host. “The issue is that they are constantly overlooked and not given the attention they deserve. Perhaps the best way to attract women to Web3 would be to actually focus on the women who are currently in the space,” she muses.

This is where by-women, for-women collectives come in. In Asia Pacific alone, there are communities such as Squad, a soon-to-launch platform focused on creating a jobs’ marketplace for women in Web3 and the metaverse, and Women in Blockchain Asia, a non-profit organisation that seeks to empower women with the knowledge, skills and resources to succeed in the blockchain industry. Then there’s also Untam3d, a 1,000-strong collective that aims to decode the world of Web3 for women.

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“When it comes to things like finances, investments and venture capital, women still tend to be in the minority. Over generations and generations, we’re conditioned to believe and accept that these spaces aren’t for us,” Untam3 co-founder Grace Clapham, a community builder based in Singapore, explains. Untam3d hopes to change all that. “Our hope is to provide women and non-binary people with more than just a community. We aim to curate information and activities, experiences and events, as well as provide capacity-building opportunities to help decode the jargon surrounding Web3,” she shares. “We also want to amplify, showcase and enable [female and non-binary leaders], and support those who are the driving forces behind creative and impactful projects.”

When it comes to things like finances, investments and venture capital, women still tend to be in the minority. Over generations and generations, we’re conditioned to believe and accept that these spaces aren’t for us.

Grace Clapham, co-founder of Untam3

In May 2022, the collective held a panel discussion on the role of NFTs in the digital economy, and will be hosting another session on sustainability in Web3 this month. In addition, Untam3d seeks to focus on the social impacts of Web3 – from sustainability to governance and mental health. “Our intention is to keep impact top of mind for our members, helping them become more conscious of these factors as they start their Web3 journey,” says Grace.

Web3 is clearly a space that’s ripe with opportunity, with Citibank recently estimating that the metaverse economy could be worth a whopping $13 trillion by 2030. And Grace firmly believes that women fully deserve their fair share of the pie.

“We want women to see Web3 as a place where they can thrive, and be systems of change and influence. And we need to help drive the space so it is not dominated by the same type of people as in Web2,” she declares. Indeed, a male-run virtual society would only serve to further perpetuate centuries-old systems of patriarchy, which goes against everything that Web3 fundamentally stands for. Ultimately, as Grace sums up: “Web3 should be a more equitable space that upends centuries of economic, gender and cultural inequality.

Three things you need to know about Web3

  1. Web3 is a new iteration of the Internet based on blockchain technology.
  2. Instead of being controlled by large tech companies, it is owned and operated by its users.
  3. According to proponents, it is decentralised, egalitarian and self-governing.