Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Three Women: Moving Democracy and Gender Equity Forward
Last Friday, October 7, marked a significant advance in women’s rights with the announcement of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners—all three of whom are women. The laureates are Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf; Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee; and Tawakkol Karman, a catalyzing figure in the ongoing revolt in Yemen. These three inspiring women are all leaders in the fight against oppression, and for democracy, women’s rights, and basic human rights.
Historically, Nobel Peace Prize winners have been overwhelmingly male and Western. The Prize was first awarded in 1901. Before last week’s awards, only 12 of 96 individual laureates had been women, and only 13 had been from countries in Africa or the Middle East. The Nobel Committee’s decision to acknowledge the social and political activism of three women from Africa and the Middle East is truly groundbreaking.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is Liberia’s first democratically elected female president—in fact, the first in any nation in Africa. The award comes during her re-election campaign in Liberia’s second democratic election cycle. Johnson-Sirleaf sees getting the award as a message that “the international community is calling on Liberians to be peaceful.” She is a visionary whose extraordinary strength has guided her through years of political activism, including twice being imprisoned. The Nobel Peace Prize is a symbol of the international community’s highest regard, and gives recognition for her brave struggle toward peace.
Leymah Gbowee has worked closely with President Johnson-Sirleaf, and was instrumental in ending Liberia’s second civil war. By rallying over 3,000 Christian and Muslim women to peacefully protest, she created a voice for women in the peace process. Her unconventional efforts have been highly effective in rallying change agents and getting real visibility with political leaders. In 2007, Gbowee established the Women Peace and Security Network in Africa, an organization to promote women's strategic participation and leadership in peace and security governance in Africa. Today, Gbowee continues to fight for change and peace in Liberia as well as other countries in Africa.
Tawakkol Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work organizing women and youth to peacefully protest against President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year regime. The first Arab woman to win the Prize, Karman has been an activist since 2006. When the Arab Spring began, she was there to organize student protests; her efforts continued unwaveringly, even after the popularity of Arab Spring started to diminish. Her next challenge is to continue to foster peace as the revolt continues and new leadership emerges in Yemen. Karman is an example of one person who pushed people out of oppression and toward the light of a possible democratic state. She humbly gives her award to those who stand beside her.
The Nobel Peace Prize demonstrates international recognition that social change is occurring in Liberia and Yemen. Within these two countries, advancement toward empowering women has been slow going. Celebrating these three women as catalysts for improving the state of human rights and political change further legitimizes female leadership worldwide.
Honoring the Passing of a Great Woman Leader
Another great woman was honored recently for her Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai of Kenya, the first African woman to win the award. Maathai was awarded the prize in 2004 for her environmental activism and was celebrated and mourned this week, after a battle with cervical cancer. She died September 25th at 71. Maathi was the first woman in east and central Africa to earn her doctorate degree then launched a campaign to plant 40 million trees in Kenya, known as the Green Belt Movement. Her life goal was to make the “world a more peaceful, healthier, and better place.”
This post is part of a monthly blog series, Women of the World: Focusing on Empowerment, Health and Human Rights.
Rebecca Shore is a Communications Specialist at the Knowledge for Health Project.