Where are all the women on banknotes?
We all know that Queen Elizabeth II is on hundreds of different banknotes. But which other women are on banknotes? Banknotes typically have had portraits of royalty, leaders of countries and historically important people. Excluding the Queen, how many banknotes in circulation today have a woman on them? 30? 35?
Sweden has women on three of their six banknotes, but all three are artists not political or historical leaders. For many years, the Japanese 5000 yen has had Ichiyo Higuchi, a late 19th century writer. On the UK 10 pound note, Jane Austen makes a re-appearance, although that took a lot of public pressure when the notes were redesigned for polymer.
It is not all about writers and artists. Australia has portraits on both sides of their banknotes. On one side is a man and the other a woman. The men and women are not historical leaders but are culturally important in Australia. Dame Mary Gilmore, Mary Reibley and Edith Cowan are highlighted. The New Zealand $10 has an elegant portrait of Kate Shephard, a leader in women suffrage.
Women leaders are prevalent on some current banknotes such Eva Peron from Argentina and Juana Azurduy de Padilla from Bolivia. The 2016 Philippines 500 peso showed former President Corazon Aquino. Canada put Viola Desmond, a civil rights leader on its most recent $10. Josefa Camejo and Luisa Caceres de Arismendi were independence leaders in Venezuela and can be seen on recent Venezuelan Bolivar.
I am sure there are a few others- I think maybe 15 or 20, but the message is pretty clear. Women are underrepresented on banknotes compared to the relevance of their contribution- which is much more than only as an artist, or poet or actress (no offense to the exquisite Greta Garbo portrait ion the Swedish 100 Krona.
In the 19th century and early 20th century it did seem that women were on more banknotes. Whether that is matriarchal images of Athena on Greek drachma or Britannia on English banknotes, women were more prevalent on currency 100 years ago. In the 1800’s the US had banknotes with Mary Washington. Golda Meir, former prime minister was on Israeli banknotes in the 1990s. Canada was prolific in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Queen Victoria, Princess Patricia (granddaughter of Queen Victoria), Alexandra of Denmark (wife of King Edward VII), Queen Mary (Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother) and then Princess Elizabeth (before anyone knew she would be Queen) all had their place on Canadian banknotes.
There is still a plan to have Harriett Tubman, anti-slavery leader on the next US $10. OK, that might be a good start. But where is a banknote with Queen Elizabeth I, Joan of Arc, Catherine the Great, Bernadette Soubrious, Rosalind Franklin or Dowager Cixi. It might even be time to consider a banknote with a portrait of Margaret Thatcher. Let’s hope we see more women get the respect they deserve and represent their countries.