International Women’s Day: Celebrating Women on Currency

In commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 8, Sunway Echo Media is proud to be celebrating women whose faces appear on currency worldwide. From poets to presidents, these women’s invaluable contributions to their countries have earned them a spot on banknotes and coins.

Here are ten countries that feature women on their currency:

1. Indonesia

Indonesia’s 1,000-rupiah bill features Cut Nyak Meutia, a National Hero of Indonesia who led the Acehnese guerrilla force in the fight against the Dutch in the late 1800s. She died when she resisted capture by the Dutch at her hideout. Thanks to her bravery and heroism, Cut Nyak Meutia is seen as a symbol of pride among Indonesian women.

2. Philippines

The three women seen on Filipino currency are Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Corazon Aquino and Josefa Llanes Escoda, on the 200, 500 and 1,000-peso banknote respectively.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo served as the 14th President of the Philippines from 2001 to 2010, during which the country enjoyed great economic development. In 2007, the economy expanded at its fastest pace in 30 years, mitigating the impact of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis on the Philippine economy. On the bill, Arroyo is depicted at her presidential inauguration ceremony.

Corazon Aquino was the first woman to hold the office of President of the Philippines. As the 11th president, she repealed her predecessor’s oppressive laws and abolished his dictatorial government. She is pictured alongside her husband, Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

Josefa Llanes Escoda, commonly known as the Florence Nightingale of the Philippines, was a social worker and war heroine who died defending her country during the Japanese Occupation. Known for her women’s suffrage campaigns, she gave Filipinas a voice and promoted youth development in the nation. Escoda also founded the Girl Scouts of the Philippines and the Boy’s Town for the less fortunate.

3. Japan

Ichiyo Higuchi was a pioneering female professional modern literature writer whose works mostly comprised prose and poetry. She wrote about love, ambition, suffering and cruelty among the Meiji middle class. Although Higuchi died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 24, her legacy lives on centuries later – four of her stories have inspired films and television shows, while a biopic about her was released in 1939. Japan’s 5,000-won banknote carries Higuchi’s image.

4. South Korea

The image on South Korea’s 50,000-won bill is that of Shin Saimdang, a prominent Joseon dynasty poet and painter. She balanced her artistic pursuits with her familial duties, raising seven children and caring for her aged parents while painting and more. Although 500 years have passed since her death, Shin is still revered as the epitome of filial piety and good parenting. Many of her works have survived till this day. In fact, her drawings ‘Mookpododo’ and ‘Chochungdosubyeong’ can be seen alongside Shin on the bill, while her other paintings, ‘Wolmaedo’ and ‘Pungjugdo’ are illustrated on the reverse.

5. Syria

On the Syrian 100-pound note is Queen Zenobia, queen of Palmyra (present-day Syria) in the third-century. Most notably, she conquered Egypt and the Roman East. While in power, Zenobia filled her court with intellectuals, protected those from minority religions and ruled her multiethnic and multicultural people well. However, her reign was short-lived. After a few years, Zenobia was captured and exiled to Rome where she spent the remainder of her days. 

6. England

England’s bills carry the images of Queen Elizabeth II and Jane Austen. All English banknotes portray the Queen, while Jane Austen’s image is seen on the 10-pound banknote. The Queen can also be seen on coins and many former British colonies’ bills.

Quite possibly the world’s most well-loved royal, Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-ruling British monarch. Known for her devotion to a life of service, the Queen is a patron of over 600 charitable organisations ranging from youth development to preservation of the environment. In the span of just one year in 2012, the Queen helped these organisations raise a whopping £1.4 billion!

Despite having only written six books, Jane Austen is one of the most prolific figures in English literature. She focused on how women used marriage as a means to obtain social security and higher social standing but at the same time, injected sarcasm, humour and irony in her work. Austen’s books have been adapted for film and television countless times, and are still popular today as the themes in her work are as relevant as ever.

7. America

Sacagawea was a Shoshone Native American woman, memorialised on the American dollar coin in appreciation of her contributions to the 1803 Lewis and Clark exhibition which explored the Louisiana Territory. However, as no image of Sacagawea exists, her likeness on the coin is based on a modern Shoshone woman’s features. On the coin, Sacagawea is depicted carrying her son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.

8. Canada

Viola Desmond was a Canadian champion for women’s rights who famously defied racial segregation laws at a movie theatre in Nova Scotia. During a movie, Davis sat in a downstairs seat although she had bought an upstairs seat ticket (known as the non-white area) as the ticket seller refused to sell her a seat downstairs. She refused to move when asked to do so, and policemen dragged her out of the theatre and into jail and charged with tax evasion (there was a one-cent difference in the tax for the seat she had paid for versus the seat she sat in). 

Desmond’s incident was publicized widely and was heard in Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court, where she was convicted. Posthumously, she was featured on the Canadian 10-dollar note and granted a free pardon by the Nova Scotian governor, acknowledging that Desmond’s conviction was erroneous and she was in fact innocent. 

9. Mexico

Four women appear on Mexican currency – Frida Kahlo, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Carmen Serdan and Hermila Galindo. Sor Juana is seen on the 200-peso note, while Kahlo makes an appearance on the 500-peso note. Serdan and Galindo are both on the 1,000-peso note.

As a poet, scholar and nun who lived in the 1600s, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s ideas were considered radical for many reasons. Some felt that Sor Juana should only concern herself with spiritual matters, while others criticised the topics of her work. Sor Juana wrote about colonialism and women’s right to education (she mostly educated herself by reading books in her grandfather’s library) but she also criticised misogyny and the hypocrisy of men. Now, she is highly regarded as a feminist icon of Mexico who made significant contributions to historic and modern feminist movements.

Frida Kahlo was one of Latin America’s most renowned artists. Described as a surrealist, she is known for her colourful portraits, including those of herself – one of which we see on the banknote above! Kahlo’s vibrant art explores the themes of feminism, religion and more, drawing inspiration from Mexican culture, Catholicism and her marital life with her husband.

A recognised ‘Distinguished Citizen of Puebla’. Carmen Serdan aided in the Mexican Revolution by founding the Revolutionary Junta de Puebla and planning for the armed uprising and handling the logistics of the revolution in her city of Puebla, Mexico.

Hermila Galindo was a trailblazer in many ways. She was one of the first feminists who supported ‘extreme’ ideas such as sex education and divorce, and was the first woman to run for elected office in Mexico. At just 20, Galindo joined hands with a few others to publish the country’s first feminist magazine, La Mujer Moderna (‘The Modern Woman’). 

When Mexico held their first feminist congress, Galindo, who was unable to attend, wrote a speech criticising the double standard for men and women and proposed that women be considered equal to men. The same speech also suggested sex education in schools and theorized that Catholicism was hindering feminism. Such unprecedented ideologies riled up the audience who even asked that Galindo’s paper be destroyed.

In defiance of laws prohibiting women from running for elective office, Galindo also ran for the position of district deputy and surprisingly won in a landslide election, although she was not allowed to take office.

10. New Zealand

Kate Sheppard was the inaugural President of the National Council of Women of New Zealand and a very active suffragette. She actively networked with politicians, wrote to the press and organised petitions and public gatherings in her fight for women’s rights. 

She was also the editor of New Zealand’s first woman-run newspaper, The White Ribbon. Sheppard also circulated pamphlets campaigning for women’s right to vote, giving rise to a petition that garnered over 30,000 signatures calling for the government to grant this right. Her efforts were successful, and in 1983, New Zealand was first to grant women the right to vote.

Female representation on currency is still very much lacking, although it is slowly improving. Tunisia recently started circulating banknotes featuring Tawhida Ben Cheikh, the country’s first female doctor. The United States has also implemented the American Women Quarters Program which will recognise the achievements of 20 American women, including Chinese-American Hollywood star Anna May Wong.

From all of us at Echo Media, Happy International Women’s Day and cheers to seeing more women on currency in the future!

Written by: Natalie

Edited by: Jamie

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