If women designed money

Collage of female designed currency featuring women

If you were to pull out a banknote or coin anywhere in the world, chances are you’d be met with an image of a man. If not a man, then a famous building, monument, or even animal. There would be a very low likelihood that you’d be looking at a portrait of a woman, with just 11% of all currency (both in and out of circulation) depicting famous women.

Moneyboat delves into this gender gap between male and female figures on money, breaks this down to see which countries have the largest discrepancy, and offers an insight into which famous faces we may see grace banknotes if women designed money.

A brief history of women on currency

The first woman to have been recorded to appear on currency is Arsinoe II, a Ptolemaic queen of Egypt after her likeness was found on coins from the third century B.C.

Throughout the years since other women have been immortalised on currency all over the world. In 1969, Artist Angelika Kauffmann appeared on the Austrian 100 schilling note—holding this position until 1984.

While people have been featured on British banknotes since 1970, it took until 1975 to have the first women depicted. The honour went to Florence Nightingale as she graced the £10 note for over 15 years. Other women to have been commemorated on UK currency include Elizabeth Fry, Jane Austen and, of course, Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1985, the Bank of Israel issued a ten Israeli New Sheqalim banknote which featured politician Golda Meir, who was the first woman to hold the head of government in Israel after serving as the fourth prime minister from 1969 to 1974.

Into the 2000s, more and more notes have been issued with famous female faces, but still not enough to equal the number of men adorning currency around the world.

Arsinoe II, a Ptolemaic queen of Egypt, became the first woman to appear on currency

The gender gap between men and women on currency

The gender gap between men and women on currency

Interested in the gender representation of notable figures on currency, we analysed over 3,000 banknotes and coins, in and out of circulation, to discover the disparity between male and female figures represented globally.

Throughout the countries in this study, only 10.87% of both paper and coin currency that had a person on it, showed a woman—meaning over 89% showed a man.

To break this down, out of over 274 coins, 243 had male figures on them, as opposed to just 31 females. This equates to over 88% of these coins showing men, and under 12% having women on them.

The same trend continues when it comes to banknotes. Almost nine in every ten notes (that have a person on them) will have a man, with our findings showing that 89.2% of paper money is dominated by men versus 10.8% with female portraits.

Currency reimagined to include women

To even the playing field with men vs. women on banknotes, Moneyboat has designed new notes for 19 different countries—each portraying two influential women who have lived and made a difference there.

Canada

Imagined Canadian women on currency. Margaret Atwood and Mary Two-Axe Early

Although Canada has the highest percentage of female figures on its currency (at 33.33%), there will always be room for more. Margaret Atwood—one of the country’s most honoured authors with awards, accolades and more than 20 honorary degrees—seems an ideal choice.

She could be joined by Mary Two-Axe Earley, a trailblazer of the Canadian indigenous women's rights movement in the 1960s and 1980s which looked to restore indigenous status to more than 60,000 women.

The Netherlands

Imagined Netherlands money featuring women. Cornelia 'Corrie' ten Boom and Rixt Herklots

Just over 28% of currency with people on them will include a woman in the Netherlands—so it’s safe to say there is more than enough room to introduce new notes. The first woman who deserves to be honoured in the Netherlands is Cornelia ‘Corrie’ ten Boom. She was a Dutch watchmaker who worked with her family to help around 800 Jewish people escape from the Nazis during the Holocaust, something she was imprisoned and eventually sent to a concentration camp for.

Rixt Herklots is an inspiration to any woman who is looking to make their own impact in the business world. She is the Next Women NL Director and a passionate feminist who looks to empower female entrepreneurs to make a positive impact on society.

Australia

Imagined Australia money featuring women. Marita Cheng and Shemara Wikramanayake

The youngest ever “Australian of the Year” in 2012, Marita Cheng has worked tirelessly to encourage women to follow their dreams in the world of engineering and technology—a feat that could be honoured on Australia’s currency and increase its female presence from 22.58%.

A tribute to Shemara Wikramanayake would also be a great addition to their banknotes. As the first Asian-Australian woman to head an ASX 200 listed company, she has made great strides for women in leadership roles.

China

Imagined China money featuring women. Li Yinhe and Guo Jianmei

As one of China's most recognisable sexologist intellectuals, Li Yinhe, has spent years defending women's rights, homosexuality, lesbianism, and transgender rights with a mixture of activism and writing.

To try and change China’s 80-20 percentage of men vs. women on currency, a woman who deserves to be honoured on currency is Guo Jianmei. She is a lawyer and human rights activist who has run a non-profit that provides legal representation for women since 2005 which has seen her be put forward as a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Germany

Imagined Germany money featuring women. Katharina Oguntoye and Alice Schwarzer

With just 18.52% of currency from Germany showcasing women, it’s time for a change. Katharina Oguntoye and Alice Schwarzer are two German women who we’d love to see on the country’s banknotes.

Oguntoye is one of the founders of the Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD) as well as ADEFRA, an Afro-German women's group. Schwarzer is the founder of EMMA, a German feminist magazine and the only political magazine in Europe to be entirely run by women.

United Kingdom

Imagined UK money featuring women. Emmeline Pankhurst and Katie Piper OBE

Although the UK already has a few female faces on its currency, a percentage difference of 83.33% of men on coins or banknotes compared to just 16.67% of women shows there will always be room for more. Emmeline Pankhurst, the founding member of the UK's suffragette movement and Women's Social and Political Union, would be a great addition.

After Katie Piper OBE survived an acid attack, she proceeded to advocate for other survivors, through writing, television and founding The Katie Piper Foundation. Her dedication to making a difference means she’s more than worthy to have a UK banknote devoted to her.

South Korea

Imagined South Korea money featuring women. Soyeon Yi and Jang Hye-young

Just 16.67% of banknotes and coins in South Korea show a female face. So, for the country’s reimagined currency, Soyeon Yi would be the perfect fit. She was the country’s first astronaut and the first person under 30 to reach space after beating out over 36,000 applicants.

Jang Hye-young deserves to join her, too. She’s a tireless political activist for disabled rights in South Korea and has also proposed anti-discrimination legislation.

Mexico

Imagined Mexico money featuring wome. Tessy Maria Lopez Goerne and Rosario Ibarra de Piedra

Although Mexico has introduced a new 100-peso banknote with groundbreaking poet, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, where there are people on its currency, nearly 84% of the time it’ll be a man. To change this, Tessy María López Goerne is a good choice. She’s an award-winning nanotechnology and nanomedicine scientist who has also been nominated for the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Another woman who should be portrayed on the Mexican Peso is Rosario Ibarra de Piedra. Despite being over 90, she was a key figure in the indigenous Zapatista movement of the 1990s and continued to fight for equality.

Italy

Imagined Italy money featuring women. Artemisia Gentileschi and Bebe Vio

If Italy wanted to introduce new currency (and change its male vs. female percentages from 85.71% and 14.29%) with pioneering women then Bebe Vio is a fantastic possibility. Vio is one of the most talented, and popular, wheelchair fencers in the country and excelled at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro and 2020 Tokyo Paralympics—ultimately winning a gold medal at both.

A second option is Artemisia Gentileschi. In her paintings, she depicted powerful biblical women and was the first female member of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno (Academy of the Arts of Drawing).

Japan

Imagined Japan money featuring women. Natsuko Shoji and Chiaki Mukai

If Japan wants to appreciate individuals who are leading the way for other women, and boost its percentage of women on currency from 13.33%, then Natsuko Shoji is perfect. She has been named Asia's Best Female Chef in 2022 by the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” for her French restaurant, Été and looks to inspire the next generation of female chefs.

The first Asian woman in space, Chiaki Mukai, was also Japan’s first astronaut to be on two space missions. Not just content with space exploration, Mukai is also Keio University Hospital's first female cardiovascular surgeon.

The USA

Imagined USA money featuring women. Harriet Tubman and Serena Williams

Although there have been countless women who have made a difference in America, men still dominate almost 88% of its currency. To even this out, it’s about time it introduces more women on its banknotes.

You can’t talk about the fight for equality in the USA without talking about the heroic acts of Harriet Tubman. Although an initiative to have Tubman replace Andrew Jackson lapsed during Trump’s presidency, Biden’s administration is seeking to rectify this.

Another influential woman fighting for equality is Serena Williams. Being known as one of the greatest tennis legends of all time is just the tip of the iceberg of Williams’ accomplishments—she has also been an advocate for eradicating racism and sexism in the game.

Indonesia

Imagined Indonesia money featuring women. Saur Marlina Manurang and Sri Mulyani

To address the 89% vs 11% discrepancy between women and men on currency, Indonesia could consider adding a portrait of Saur Marlina Manurung (Butet Manurung). She is relentless in her efforts to offer new and innovative education practices for Indigenous communities living in isolation.

They could honour Sri Mulyani too. She was the first female minister and has been praised for bolstering the economy and for helping Indonesia through the Great Recession from 2007-2010.

Brazil

Imagined Brazil money featuring women. Marielle Franco and Marta Vieira Da Silva

There is a 90-10 split between men and women on banknotes in Brazil. To change this, new notes featuring women like Marielle Franco could be minted. She was a human rights activist who tirelessly defended women's and reproductive rights, as well as helped to fight for the rights of favela residents in Brazil. Not only this, but she also chaired the Women's Defense Commission and regularly spoke out against police brutality.

To give more women the spotlight when it comes to currency, Brazil could include Marta Vieira Da Silva, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for women in sports. With 115 goals, she holds the record for the most international goals scored by a Brazilian of any gender—she also holds the record for the most goals scored in any FIFA World Cup tournament (men's or women's).

Spain

Imagined Spain money featuring women. Clara Campoamor and Maria Pita

In a bid to have more remarkable women printed on cash and increase the percentage of currency with females on it from just over 9%, Spain should consider Clara Campoamor. She is considered to be the mother of the feminist movement in Spain, she was also a politician, lawyer, and writer. Although Campaomor has been put on a commemorative 10 euro coin, making her a permanent feature on currency would be a step forward for the country.

Another pioneering woman who is more than worthy of a spot on a banknote is María Pita. Known as Spain’s version of Joan of Arc, she was the heroine of Coruña after fighting against the English Armada and naval attacks in 1589.

Switzerland

Imagined Switzerland money featuring women. Iris von Roten and Simona Scarpaleggia

If Switzerland is looking to change its percentage of currency with females on it from 6.67%, then we have a few ideas. Feminist writer Iris von Roten has produced works such as 'Frauen im Laufgitter', was the editor for a women's paper and was seen as extremely radical for her time. If those qualifications aren’t enough, von Roten was also a jurist and a lawyer.

A passionate advocate for women's empowerment, Simona Scarpaleggia could be immortalised on Swiss currency. She is also the CEO of IKEA Switzerland and the leader in establishing certifications for businesses that have gender equality strategies in place.

France

Imagined France money featuring women. Josephine Baker and Olympe de Gouges

With only 6% of the country’s currency featuring a woman, France has plenty of room to introduce some female faces to its banknotes and coins. Josephine Baker would be an outstanding option. As the first black woman on film, Baker spent a lot of WWII acting as a spy for the French Resistance against the Nazis.

Olympe de Gouges is another woman who is more than deserving of a spot on currency. A fierce advocate of women's rights in the French colonies, she also opposed the institution of slavery.

India

Imagined India money featuring women. Mary Kom and Krithi Karanth

With 100% of Indian rupees currency showing a male figure, it is time for Indian women to be included. Mary Kom is a modern option, a successful boxer and politician. As the only female boxer to have won the World Amateur Boxing Championship six times and the only individual to win eight World Championships medals (male or female), she is a true legend in the sport.

Krithi Karanth is another Indian woman who is making a difference in the world. She is a Chief Conservation Scientist and Executive Director of the Centre for Wildlife Studies. She has also been a worthy winner of the 'Wild Innovator Award' and was the first Asian and Indian woman to receive this accolade.

Iran

Imagined Iran money featuring women. Maryam Mirzakhani and Shirin Ebadi

Another country without any pieces of currency displaying a woman is Iran. To change this, Maryam Mirzakhani is an exceptional choice. She received the prestigious Fields Medal in Mathematics and, at the time, was the first and only Iranian woman to be honoured in this way.

A Nobel Peace Prize-winning writer is a second great option. Shirin Ebadi is a founder of the Defender of Human Rights Centre, an activist and among the first female judges in Iran.

Saudi Arabia

Imagined Saudi Arabia money featuring women. Mishaal Ashemimry and Haifaa Al Mansour

One more country with a 100% male appearance on currency is Saudi Arabia. To change this, Mishaal Ashemimry would be a good feature—the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) first female aerospace engineer and entrepreneur. She also established MISHAAL Aerospace to make space exploration more accessible.

To further correct the gender imbalance, Saudi Arabia could choose to put Haifaa Al Mansour on its currency. She is the first Saudi female filmmaker who continues to challenge the representation of Saudi women on film and did so during a 35-year-long, country-wide cinema ban.

The currency gender gap by country

Currency Gender gap infographic

Looking at the most prominent countries by GDP, it was revealed that Canada had the highest percentage of women featured on currency, at 33.3%. Notable women who have featured on Canadian banknotes include Queen Elizabeth II, Alberta’s “Famous Five” which included Emily Murphy, Henrietta Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby, as well as an unnamed female scientist.

The Netherlands and Australia are in second and third for the number of men vs women on legal tender. 28.57% of Dutch currency shows a woman (when there is a person on it), while 22.58% of Australian notes and coins honour females.

Although many of the banknotes and coins in the UK show Queen Elizabeth II, the percentage difference between male and female figures on currency sits at over 66%.

The USA has seen women grace legal tender before but never on any bank notes. This has left the country with a percentage of 87.96% of legal tender that is entirely male, and only 12.04% depicting women.

The three countries without any legal tender showing a woman include India, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The future of women on money

In 2022, Sierra Leone introduced a new 20-Leone banknote with Constance Cummings-John on it. She was an educator and politician during both pre and post-colonial Sierra Leone and tirelessly campaigned for women’s rights in the country. Not only this, but she was also the first woman to govern a modern capital city in Africa.

This percentage of currency depicting women is set to increase in the USA too. The American Women Quarters™ Program means the US Mint will issue five quarters a year depicting trailblazing women—starting in 2022 and continuing until 2025.

So it’s encouraging to see that steps to equalise men and women on money are being taken.

Methodology

  1. Moneyboat performed an analysis of over 3,000 banknotes and coins in circulation from the 16th century till present in order to evaluate the gender gap in prominent men vs women portrayed on legal tender.
  2. Firstly, a dataset of individuals on legal tender along with the country, circulation period and denomination were collected from Wikipedia pages for banknotes in circulation, banknotes no longer in circulation, and coins in and out of circulation. The resulting dataset consisted of a sample of over 3,000 banknotes and coins with 1,490 unique individuals.
  3. A cross-verified database of notable figures* was subsequently used to map individuals in our dataset to a gender using both name and age to determine a match. Individuals not matching the notable figures dataset were assigned genders manually.
  4. Legal tender produced by countries that no longer exist are, where appropriate, attributed to current institutions that most accurately represent them. Therefore, currency produced by colonies is attributed to the colonial country.
  5. The sample was then aggregated to calculate the percentage of men vs women on legal tender by tender type, country, and decade.

*Laouenan, M., Bhargava, P., Eyméoud, JB. et al. A cross-verified database of notable people, 3500BC-2018AD. Sci Data 9, 290 (2022).

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