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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
Bank of Canada
Civil rights activist Viola Desmond on Canada’s award-winning $10 bill
  • Amanda Shendruk
By Amanda Shendruk

Visual journalist

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

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.

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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