A study by Swedish loan company Advisa analysed 1,006 current international banknotes and found that only 15% featured images of women. Meanwhile, men account for the representation seen on approximately 88 per cent of global currency, with this rising to 91 per cent if we weren’t to include those that feature the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
Further insight into the survey found that none of the world’s strongest currencies in 2022, each of which circulates in African countries, features a female figure.
To mark International Women’s month, Business Insider Africa looked through the catalogue of international banknotes, finding that only 3 of 54 African countries featured a woman on one or more of their bills. They are Malawi’s Rose Lomathinda Chibambo, Nigeria’s Ladi Kwali, and Tunisia’s Tawhida Ben Cheikh.
Rose Lomathinda Chibambo was a prominent politician in the British Protectorate of Nyasaland in the years leading up to independence as the state of Malawi in 1964 and immediately after. She organised Malawian women in their political fight against the British as a political force to be reckoned with in the push for independence. A street in Mzuzu City is named in honour of Chibambo, and as of 1 January 2012, she appears on Malawi’s 200 Kwacha banknote.
Dr. Hadiza Ladi Kwali was one of Nigeria’s foremost and most prolific potters, who became world-famous for practising a hybrid of traditional African and Western studio pottery styles. In acknowledgement of her achievements and hard work, the Nigerian government graced the 20 naira note with her picture, making her the first and only woman of Nigerian currency.
During her lifetime, Kwali was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1962 and an honorary doctoral degree from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in 1977.
In 1980, the Nigerian Government bestowed on her the insignia of the Nigerian National Order of Merit Award (NNOM), the highest national honour for academic achievement. She also received the national honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON) in 1981.
Tawhida Ben Cheikh, a Tunisian physician, magazine editor, and social activist, was widely credited as the first female physician in Tunisia. A feminist pioneer both in and out of the medical field, Ben Cheikh helped transform Tunisian medicine by providing women better access to contemporary healthcare.
In 1928 she became the first Tunisian female to graduate secondary school, but she didn’t stop there. In a break from traditional expectations of women, she went on to earn her medical degree in Paris in 1936 at the age of 27.
Ben Cheikh made history upon returning to Tunis that year when she opened her free medical practice. With primary specialities in gynaecology and obstetrics, she went on to become the head of the maternity department of the city’s Charles-Nicolle hospital in 1955. Then in the ‘70s, she founded Tunisia’s first family planning clinic. Ben Cheikh also contributed to numerous women’s organisations and founded Leïla, the country’s first French-language women’s magazine.
In acknowledgement of her achievements and hard work, the Tunisian government issued a new 10 dinar note emblazoned with Ben Cheikh’s portrait—the world’s first-ever banknote to feature a female doctor.