Since the inception of International Women’s Day and the advocacy for gender equality, more women now have access to education, economic opportunities and leadership roles. We have many generations of brave and brilliant women to thank for this progress – those who shaped the course of history with achievements in social, economic, political and cultural spheres of society.
Although these women of exceptional character existed at different times and in different countries, continents, and all over the world, there is a great disparity in how they are recognized by different nations to which they belong. While some countries (mostly advanced economies) go as far as featuring them on their bank notes. But less developed or developing countries have not come close to conceiving or even implementing such an idea.
For instance, of over 15 countries that feature their historic female greats on banknotes, not one is African. In Nigeria, there are female figures on the back of 10 and 20 naira notes, and one amidst men on the front of 50 naira note. But these are mere images of women without prominence or recognition.
Some may argue that such a gesture is not all that essential. However, careful observation would show that the continent has done little to honour the valuable sacrifices, dedication and contributions of its inspirational female figures.
A lot remains to be done to support women’s rights and achieve true gender balance in Africa and the world at large. Albeit, a day like this -International Women’s Day (IWD) – gives us the opportunity to celebrate their achievements collectively.
To mark this year’s edition of IWD, Ventures Africa has compiled a list of the countries that feature women on currencies.
*The list excludes Queen Elizabeth II; The British monarch appears on the front of every Bank of England note; Australia’s 5 dollar bill; Canada and New Zealand’s 20 dollar notes.
In July 2013, the UK central bank announced that 19th-century novelist Jane Austen – writer of classics such as “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sense and Sensibility” and “Emma” – would become the face of the new £10 note, replacing naturalist Charles Darwin.
While past bills featured nurse and statistician, Florence Nightingale on the back and current 5-pound notes show 19th-century social reformer, Elizabeth Fry.
Syria’s 500-pound note features the image of Queen Zenobia, a 3rd-Century ruler of the Palmyrene Empire who is most famous for leading a revolt against the mighty colonizers, the Roman Empire.
The Nordic nations dominate the top of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report rankings, so it’s no surprise to learn that Sweden is way ahead when it comes to celebrating the achievements of women on their banknotes.
Opera singer Jenny Lind currently adorns the 50 krona note, while Selma Lagerlöf – the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature – features on the 20 Krona.
More so, a new line of banknotes features author, Astrid Lindgren on the 20-Krona, 20th-century soprano Birgit Nilsson on the 500-Krona, and classic film actress Greta Garbo on the 100-Krona note.
Argentina’s beloved former First Lady (from 1946 until her death in 1952) Maria Eva Duarte de Peron or simply Eva Perón – widely known by her nickname “Evita” – appears on the current 100-peso bill.
The 20-peso note depicts 19th-century Argentine political activist Manuela Rosas along with her father, politician Juan Manuel de Rosas.
Australia has one woman on either the front or back of every banknote currently in circulation. They include social reformer and writer Dame Mary Gilmore on the back of the $10; 19th-century businesswoman Mary Reibey on the front of the $20; social worker and the first female member of an Australian parliament Edith Cowan on the back of the $50, and turn-of-the-century soprano Dame Nellie Melba on the front of the $100 note.
New Zealand Kiwi banknotes honor suffragette Kate Sheppard, who in 1893 helped the country become the first country in the world with universal voting rights for both men and women. Her image appears on the 10-dollar bill.
In Turkey, the current 50-lira note features turn-of-the-century novelist and women’s rights activist who died in 1936, Fatma Aliye Topuz on its reverse side.
The Bank of Israel recently added images of two female Israeli writers to the 20- and 100-New Shekel banknotes, respectively. The former features turn-of-the-century poet Rachel Bluwstein (known as Rachel the Poetess), and the latter author, poet, and literary expert Leah Goldberg, who died in 1970.
A self-portrait of artist Frida Kahlo adorns the 500 peso note in Mexico (her husband Diego Rivera is on the other side), while 17th-Century scholar and writer Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (known as “The Tenth Muse”) appears on the 200 peso note. Cruz is considered to be a large contributor to the Spanish Golden Age.
Corazon Aquino, the first female president of the Philippines and in Asia at large, was added to the country’s 500 peso note (alongside her husband, politician Benigno Aquino Jr.) in 2009. Meanwhile, early 20th-century suffragette Josefa Llanes Escoda appears on the 1000 peso note.
SOUTH KOREA: SHIN SAIMDANG
South Korea’s 50,000 won bill, the country’s highest denomination banknote, features the 16th-Century artist, writer, calligraphist and poet Shin Saimdang.
In Ukraine, the 200 hryvnia shows the image of Larysa Petrivna Kosach-Kvitka, more commonly known as Lesya Ukrainka. The writer, poet and women’s rights activist died in 1913.
To mark International Women’s Day in 2018, Canada revealed plans to feature Viola Desmond on its currency for her efforts in fighting for civil rights. This comes 72 years after she went to jail for sitting in the wrong section of a movie theatre. Desmond is the first Canadian woman to appear on her country’s currency.
Norway features two women on two separate bank notes. The first, Kirsten Flagstad, can be found on the 100 krone note while the second, Sigrid Undset, is featured on the 500 krone note. Flagstad is known as the greatest Wagnerian soprano of the mid-20th century. While Undset was a novelist who received a Noble prize in literature.
Nobel prize recipient in Literature, poet, and educator Gabriela Mistral is featured on the 5,000 Chilean peso note. Throughout her life, her influence was so great they gave her the honour of the 5,000 Chilean peso.
Ragnheiður Jónsdóttir: daughter of priest Jon Arason, wife of two bishops, and face of the 5,000 krona note. A seamstress by day, the face of all Icelandic women and their contributions to Icelandic culture by night.
As a writer and poet during the late 1800s, Ichyo Higuchi was honoured with placement upon the 5,000 yen note. Higuchi is said to be the most important Japanese woman writer of her period.
Sophie Taeuber-Arp sits proudly upon Switzerland’s 50 franc note as one of the foremost figures of the rebellious Dada art movement. Her multimedia works bridged the gap between fine and applied arts