Last Friday, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, activist Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and pro-democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen, were awarded the covenant Nobel Peace Prize, “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”. They share this honor not just as three women, but three women who have worked to liberate the women in their respective countries during times of civil strife.
Since the first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1901, only 12 of the 121 recipients have been women. The Peace Prize this year gives momentum to the women’s rights movements and to the active liberation of women around the world.
Although these women will share the Nobel Peace Prize, their stories and accomplishments are uniquely significant.
As an activist and leader in the Liberian Peace Movement, Leymah Gbowee brought Christian and Muslim women together to advocate for peace when she formed the Christian Women’s Initiative, created a coalition of women’s Muslim organizations, and organized Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. As a woman’s activist in Liberia, she bravely confronted former tyrant and dictator of Liberia, Charles Taylor, to demand peace. Her efforts helped bring an end to the Second Civil War in Liberia in 2003.
President Ellen Johnson
President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson, is the first woman elected to Liberian public office in 2005 under a free, fair and democratic process, and the first woman president to be elected in any African country in modern history. Known as the “Iron Lady”, she ran a successful campaign against Taylor and took over Liberia after a civil war that spared 200,000 lives, displaced more than a third of the population and left 85 percent of the population unemployed. During her time in office she has worked towards economic and social justice for Liberians. Although the prize was awarded to her only a few days before the presidential elections in Liberia, outsiders of Liberia respect her humanitarian work towards peace for her country.
The third recipient, 32-year-old Tawakul Karman, has been a voice for women both in Yemen and across the Middle East. In a country where women are often killed for being outspoken, where the al-Queda presence is strong, and where the unemployment rate is at 40%, Karman, inspired by the revolution in Egypt to overthrow former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and led an anti-dictatorship protest movement against the Yemeni regime. Currently facing death threats by the regime for her unwillingness to work for the government, she continues to believe that protest is the only way to liberate the people of Yemen. She has gained respect around the world for her tireless efforts to move toward a democratic and just society in Yemen.
“We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society,” said the Prize Committee. “[We hope that this] will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realize the great potential for democracy and peace that.”