Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/1/2016 (414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A nine-year-old girl wrote a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama asking why there were no images of women on American currency. (Currently all seven bills in circulation feature American statesmen.)
"So I noticed," she told Time magazine, "why don’t women have coins or dollar bills with their faces on it?"
In June of last year the U.S. Treasury Department announced it will put a woman on one of its bills in 2020.
The United Kingdom also announced in 2015 that celebrated author Jane Austen would appear on a bill in addition to Queen Elizabeth II, reversing plans to eliminate the only other woman currently on the notes, reformer Elizabeth Fry.
Australia has five women on its bank notes; women on one side and men on the other. New Zealand bills feature Kate Sheppard, in addition to the Queen, who it’s said helped the country in 1893 to become the first country in the world to win voting rights for both men and women.
Then there’s Syria, Philippines, Turkey, Mexico, Argentina, Israel, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, all who, according to various news reports, feature images of women on their paper currency.
Apparently the Royal Canadian Mint wishes to produce a one dollar coin commemorating the 100th anniversary of female suffrage in Canada and it has been recently authorized by the Governor General. The design so far appears to be that of a woman and child. But why no noteworthy women on our bank notes?
Some years ago, Victoria-based historian Merna Forster started to write about Canadian women in history, hoping to rescue them from obscurity. She filled two volumes. The first was 100 Canadian Heroines.
"Sadly, many of these inspiring women have been largely forgotten — even buried in unmarked graves," she writes in her second book.
In July of 2013, Forster started a petition to the Governor of the Bank of Canada to "add women from Canadian history to Canadian bank notes."
She explained to Canadian Geographic in 2014 that "the only Canadian women to ever make it onto the bank notes had been removed." Images of statues of the Famous Five who fought for women’s rights and Thérèse Casgrain, a Quebec woman who campaigned for the vote, were in recent years "replaced by an icebreaker."
The petition to put women on our money has been signed by over 64,890 supporters. Countless amazing Canadian women have been suggested and posted online. One of the many women put forward is Manitoba’s own Nellie McClung who helped bring in the vote for many Manitoba women in 1916.
Recently, city councillors from Montreal and Toronto have called on federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau to address the lack of females on Canadian money.
And yet, not one woman has been announced to appear on future bank notes. The whole matter appears to be frozen and I don’t think the icebreaker is helping.
In Canada, what kinds of images surround a young nine-year-old girl? What kinds of images contribute to our understanding of the world?
Locally, if we look around, many of our streets, buildings, parks and schools where our young children are educated, are named for men. A quick scan of roughly 363 Manitoban schools listed in a 2005 directory show that only a little more than 12 are named for women.
Our old newspapers, books, historical documents and literature are dominated by images of men.
And so, on this 100th anniversary of some Manitoba women winning the right to vote, what can we do?
Forster says, "We can all play a role in celebrating notable women in Canadian history — from featuring them in educational programs in classrooms, libraries, museums and historic sites to organizing special events..."
We can read about them, write about them, promote them and help to lift all women up. We can sign Forster’s online petition to put images of women on our currency.
Why? "Because it’s 2016," says Forster. "Women hold up half the sky, and I believe they should be celebrated on half the bank notes!"
And like the nine-year-old girl who wrote a letter to her president, and who wants to be a teacher when she grows up, we can write letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking, why?
In her own words reported to Time, "Write a letter to somebody important, because something could happen and it could actually change."
I think this nine-year-old is already a teacher.
Cheryl Girard is a Winnipeg-based writer.