There are only 59 named women on the most common banknotes

Amanda Shendruk
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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