48 Countries That Beat The U.S. To (Tender) Gender Equality

The U.S. is one of the last developed countries to still not have a woman on its paper money. Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet Republic, got there decades before us. And their 5 Som banknote—which features a famous Kyrgyz ballerina (more on that below)—is so cool, we were inspired to create the Som Blanket.

First a little geography. This is Kyrgyzstan:






Just kidding, that’s not a country, it's the Caspian Sea. Kyrgyzstan is here:





Ok seriously? That’s Afghanistan, come on now. For real though this is Kyrgyzstan:




[UN / Wikipedia]

Sorry, we've been watching too much John Oliver.

Kyrgyzstan is a small landlocked “-stan” which borders the Great Eurasian Steppe. It's small (5.7 million people), rural, and conservative, yet it nonetheless happens to be one of only 48 countries (out of 196 total) that has put a woman on at least one of their printed banknotes. Here’s a nice chart Vox put together with the full list of countries:

We highly recommend reading this article from Vox. [Zachary Crockett/Vox] 

Of course this begs the question: the U.S. government has been printing money for over 155 years, why isn't America on that list? Well, despite having put Martha Washington on a silver dollar certificate and Pocahontas (as part of a vignette) on the $20 bill briefly in the 19th century, the U.S. lags behind most developed countries (and some developing) in featuring a woman on one of its paper bills.

In 2016 it was announced that heroic abolitionist Harriet Tubman would be replacing genocidal white supremacist Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill in 2020 to mark the centennial of women’s suffrage, so kudos America.

Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.It's about damn time.

The campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill was fought and won by a group called WomenOn20s. You can lend your support to the cause here: http://www.womenon20s.org/

Now back to Kyrgyzstan, whose national flag has a bird's-eye view of a yurt on it, which is pretty dope:

Kyrgyzstan national flag

There are 40 rays surrounding the yurt, representing the 40 tribes that Kyrgyz folk hero Manas brought together to repel the Mongols.

Also dope is Kyrgyzstan's first form of currency—the horse. Until as recently as 1910, the horse was the main monetary unit and store of value. However if what you were buying was worth less than one horse, your small change would be returned in lambskins.

 One horse, three lambs

"The price is one horse and three lambskin please"  [Vicons Design / Noun Project]

Today the Kyrgyz currency is the Som, which has on its 5 bill the famed ballerina Bübüsara Beyşenalieva (1926-1973) the first prima of the Kyrgyz ballet.

Kyrgyzstan 5 Som banknote.

I wasn’t able to find much information on her (or a photo of her in action), but here's what I could gather: she was one of the first ethnic Kyrgyz ballerinas to study in Russia, she debuted at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the Kyrgyz (like the Russians) love their ballet, and she’s so famous in Kyrgyzstan that she’s known simply as “Bübüsara.”

Bubusara Beyshenalieva

Lastly we thought it important to point out that while the U.S. could do a lot more to balance the gender inequality of its currency, it is unfortunately not an outlier on the world stage. Of the world's 196 countries, only 48 of them have at least one woman on their paper currency.

When taking into account repeats, this means there are only 46 individual women (of all the women that have ever lived) on a currently circulating currency. 

What the 46 women on world currencies are known for.

[Zachary Crockett/Vox]

Sadder still, while women make up 50% of the world's population, when we count up all denominations of the world's 180 officially recognized currencies, women are on only 120 of the 1,300 bills in circulation worldwide. That means that women represent only 9% of world's paper currency.

It also bears mentioning that of those 120 bills, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II accounts for 74 of them, which means that women other than the Queen of England represent only 3% of the world's currency. Yeesh.


All of QEII's currency appearances since the age of 8. [The Washington Post]

There are some bright spots, in particular Australia where a different woman is on 4 of its 5 bills. Sweden also deserves a mention as it puts women on 4 of its 6 banknotes. Here's hoping more of the world joins them soon!

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— Hiller Dry Goods

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