39% of global legal tender currencies are 100% male

Did you know that the world’s legal tender is mostly male? We take a look at how banknotes fare when it comes to gender equality around the world.

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Hand holding pound notes

Image source: Getty Images.

Did you know that the world’s legal tender is mostly male? Except for images of Queen Elizabeth II and a few other exceptions, women are notoriously absent from the world’s currencies. Some countries are better than others at featuring women on their banknotes, but the numbers are still way off.

Recent research by the website Merchant Machine shows how gender inequality is prevalent on currency. And they even have some fun suggestions on what influential women of today we could add to our banknotes in the future.

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How is legal tender doing on gender equality?

Merchant Machine’s analysis makes it clear the answer is ‘not so well’. In fact, 88% of the world’s banknotes feature men and 39% of the legal tender around the world is completely male. This includes the American dollar.

Of the countries that do include females, Queen Elizabeth II is the most-used figure. If you exclude her image, then the percentage of banknotes featuring males rises to 91%.

The countries doing the best? Australia and Sweden, which feature an equal number of men and women on their legal tender, according to Merchant Machine.

Australia is famous for featuring women who have had a cultural impact, rather than just focusing on historical or political features. Their banknotes have featured poet and journalist Mary Gilmore, suffragette Edith Cowan, and international opera soprano Nellie Melba.

Canada has featured civil rights activist Viola Desmond, Denmark honoured Karen Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa, and England issued a £10 banknote in 2017 that featured author Jane Austen.

Has a woman’s portrait ever appeared on US paper money?

Martha Washington is the only woman ever to grace some kind of US currency. But her face appeared on the $1 Silver Certificate back in 1886, not on actual banknotes.

For years, there’s been a push to feature the face of American abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman on the $20 dollar bill. The goal was to have her face on legal tender by 2020, which marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which included the right to vote for women.

But the government recently said that any new banknote redesign will not be introduced until at least 2028.


What other women could be on legal tender banknotes?

Some countries, like the US, don’t allow the inclusion of living persons on banknotes, but that doesn’t mean we cannot consider some names for the future.

Merchant Machine has picked six of today’s most influential women as suggestions for future banknote design. These women have strong voices in different spaces and are making history as they go.

Here are Merchant Machine’s top choices:

1. Oprah Winfrey

Net worth: £1.8 billion
The world’s first black female self-made billionaire is also a philanthropist with a special interest in women’s rights and animal causes.

Greta Thunberg

Net worth: £1 million
The Swedish environmental activist is the most powerful young voice against climate change today.

Serena Williams

Net worth: £145 million
The American professional tennis player has won more Grand Slam singles titles (23) than any player in the Open era.

Kamala Harris

Net worth: £4,6 million
The first-ever female Vice President and the first woman to serve as California’s attorney general.

Angela Merkel

Net worth: £8.3 million
She’s not only Germany’s first female chancellor but also a de facto European leader.

Taylor Swift

Net worth: $365 million
Swift is the first female artist ever to win the album of the year accolade three times. She is also a pioneer of LGBT rights.

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