Women on banknotes are associated with greater gender equality (what about banknotes in India?)

Hansika Kapoor in this superb Mint Sunday piece looks at images on banknotes. More specifically, she analyses whether having women on banknotes in different countries also reflects in higher gender equality.

There does seem to be an association:

While some countries have distinct personalities on their banknotes, former colonized nations like India and Pakistan have had consistently only one person—leaders of the independence movements. To examine representations on banknotes, we sought to explore two questions: (a) how many of these individuals were women across nations, and (b) whether their representation was associated with gross domestic product (GDP) and a gender inequality index. 

For this brief analysis, we relied on data from the list of people on banknotes from Wikipedia for 115 countries, and identified the sex of the individual based on a quick search on the Internet. About 39% of nations had a woman on one or more currency notes, from varied categories like royalty, creative arts, politics, women’s rights, research, teaching and Nobel laureates. For instance, Colombia depicts Policarpa Salavarrieta, described as a seamstress and spy, and Polish banknotes represent Marie Curie, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry. 

From World Bank datasets, the most recent GDP (in current dollars) was obtained for over 200 countries. The Global Gender Gap Report (2016)yielded gender equality indices (ranging from 0 to 1, with 1 representing absolute equality) for over 140 countries. This included an overall gender gap index, and four sub-indices in the areas of economic participation, education, health and political empowerment. After collating all this data, 67 countries were included in the final analysis, of which about 45% represented women on banknotes. 

Simple correlations showed that higher GDP had positive associations with representations of women on currency notes (for the technically minded, the coefficient of correlation was 0.22), and that when a country’s currency depicted women on banknotes, its overall gender equality index tended to be higher. 

An important caveat here is that correlations do not imply causation, and this association between variables does not mean having women on currency notes cause greater gender equality/GDP (or the other way around). The finding only suggests that commonplace representation of women on currency notes is related to greater equality among the genders in various spheres, as well as higher national income.

Though there are exceptions as well:

Moreover, the association with GDP could be qualified by a range of other factors that are not accounted for here, such as more equal gender ratios and above average educational levels in richer countries. Interestingly, some countries were outliers, in that their gender equality ranking was very high, but did not have any women on banknotes (including Ireland, Nicaragua, Burundi and South Africa), or that they depicted women on currency despite a lower gender equality ranking (including South Korea, Bhutan, Tunisia and Turkey). 

I checked banknotes images in India.

There were 2 instances of women represented on banknotes and both were before independence:

The Bank of Bengal notes later introduced a vignette represented an allegorical female figure personifying ‘Commerce’ sitting by the quay. The notes were printed on both sides. On the obverse the name of the bank and the denominations were printed in three scripts, viz., Urdu, Bengali and Nagri. On the reverse of such notes was printed a cartouche with ornamentation carrying the name of the Bank. Around the mid nineteenth century, the motif ‘Commerce’ was replaced by ‘Britannia’. The note had intricate patterns and multiple colours to deter forgeries. 

Commerce Series

Brittania Series

  • After 1861, when British centralised currency function. The first series of notes was a Victoria series:

The first set of British India notes were the ‘Victoria Portrait’ Series issued in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 1000. These were unifaced, carried two language panels and were printed on hand-moulded paper manufactured at the Laverstock Paper Mills (Portals). The security features incorporated the watermark (GOVERNMENT OF INDIA, RUPEES, two signatures and wavy lines), the printed signature and the registration of the notes.

Image : Rupees Ten
Rupees Ten

Image : Rupees Twenty
Rupees Twenty

Image : Rupees Hundred
Rupees Hundred

British India Notes facilitated inter-spatial transfer of funds. As a security precaution, notes were cut in half. One set was sent by post. On confirmation of receipt, the other half was despatched by post.

Image : Half note
Half note

The Victoria Portrait series was withdrawn in the wake of a spate of forgeries and replaced by the unifaced ‘Underprint Series’ which were introduced in 1867. In deference to public demand, notes in the denomination of Rupees Five were introduced. Initially, notes were legally encashable only in the Currency Circle in which they were issued; however, between 1903 an 1911, notes of denomination 5, 10, 50 and 100 were ‘universalised’, i.e. were legally encashable outside the Currency Circle of Issue.

The Underprint Series notes were printed on moulded paper and carried 4 language panels (Green Series). The languages differed as per the currency circle of Issue. Language panels were increased to 8 in the Red Series. The improved security features included a wavy line watermark, the manufacturer’s code in the watermark (the source of much confusion in dating), guilloche patterns and a coloured underprint.

This series remained largely unchanged till the introduction of the ‘King’s Portrait’ series which commenced in 1923.

Image : Green Underprint Rs.500
Green Underprint – Rupees Five Hundred

Image : Green Underprint Rupees Five
Green Underprint – Rupees Five

Image : Red Underprint Rupees Fifty

Post-independence, notes have had Lion Capital at Sarnath, historic monuments and after Mahatma Gandhi series started in 1996, his image has dominated all the notes.

Fascinating to read all this. Each time you learn something new.

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