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There are only 59 named women on the most common banknotes

Civil rights activist Viola Desmond on Canada's $10 bill
Civil rights activist Viola Desmond on Canada's $10 bill

There are only 59 named women on the world’s most valuable banknotes.

A Quartz analysis of paper currency reveals that 64% of banknotes—405 bills—had at least one image of a person, including statues. On those, 81 illustrated at least one woman.

Many of the depicted women, however, are anonymous figures, like a farmer picking cotton in Angola, a scientist in Canada, and a series of dancers in Indonesia. Some are personifications of national identity like Lady Hibernia who represents Northern Ireland on currency issued by the Bank of Ireland.

Without these anonymous and mythological depictions, only 52 bills remain, representing 59 portrayals of women. Only 12% of banknotes that depict a person have a named woman, whereas 84% of banknotes that depict a person have a named man.

We looked at 622 bank notes from the 75 largest economies, accounting for 96.5% of the world’s GDP. Nearly 40% did not include any people. For example, the current Euro design depicts generic European architecture. Data were gathered from national and central banks. The prevalence of certain bill designs in circulation varies widely; however, we treated all circulating bills listed by a bank the same.

The women who feature on banknotes vary by career. There’s a guerrilla military leader, a shipowner, and a former president. But the most common occupation by far is a poet or author. Sixteen bills have a female writer on them, including Astrid Lindgren in Sweden, the author of Pippi Longstocking, and Jane Austin in the UK. And of course, Queen Elizabeth II has an outsized influence on the statistics. She graces 8 different bills across four countries in the analysis.

A small handful of countries stand out when it comes to female representation on currency. Australia is the only nation that has women on every one of their currently issued banknotes. Scandinavian countries fare well, too. Sixty percent of Denmark’s banknotes depict a woman, as do 50% of Sweden’s.

Name

Who are they?

Country

Juana Azurduy de Padilla

Military leader during Bolivian war of independence

Argentina

María Eva Duarte de Peron

First lady and actress

Argentina

Mary Gilmore

Writer and journalist

Australia

Nellie Melba

Opera singer

Australia

Edith Cowan

First woman to serve as a member of Australian parliament

Australia

Mary Reibey

Merchant, shipowner, and trader

Australia

Queen Elizabeth II

Monarch

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom

Viola Desmond

Civil rights activist

Canada

The Famous Five

Fought to have women considered persons under the law

Canada

Gabriela Mistral

First Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature

Chile

Debora Arango

Artist

Colombia

Virginia Gutierrez

Anthropologist

Colombia

Bozena Nemcova

Author

Czech Republic

Emmy Destinn

Opera Singer

Czech Republic

Anna Ancher

Artist

Denmark

Johanne Luise Heiberg

Actress

Denmark

Karen Blixen

Author

Denmark

Mirabal sisters

Three sisters who opposed the Trujillo dictatorship

Dominican Republic

Salome Urena de Henriquez

Poet and the founder of women’s higher education in the country

Dominican Republic

Tjoet Nja Meuthia

National hero who fought against the Dutch

Indonesia

Leah Goldberg

Author

Israel

Rachel Bluwstein

Poet

Israel

Ichiyo Higuchi

Author

Japan

Shin Saimdang

Artist and writer

Korea

Frida Khalo

Artist

Mexico

Juana Ines de la Cruz

Nun, scholar, and poet

Mexico

Kate Sheppard

Prominent member of suffragette movement

New Zealand

Ladi Kwali

Potter

Nigeria

Saint Rose of Lima

Saint

Peru

Corazon Aquino

First woman to be president of the Philippines

Philippines

Josefa Llanes Escoda

Founder of the Girl Scouts in the Philippines

Philippines

Nan Shepherd

Writer and poet

Scotland

Mary Somerville

Science writer and polymath

Scotland

Elsie Inglis

Doctor and suffragist

Scotland

Astrid Lindgren

Author of Pippi Longstocking

Sweden

Birgit Nilsson

Opera Singer

Sweden

Greta Garbo

Actress

Sweden

Sophie Taeuber-Arp

Artist

Switzerland

Fatma Aliye Topuz

Author and women’s rights activist

Turkey

Lesia Ukrainka

Author

Ukraine

Jane Austin

Author

United Kingdom

Josefa Camejo

Venezuelan-independence fighter

Venezuela

 

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