Who makes up this trio, these remarkable peace warriors who have won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize? Meet Leymah Gbowee — the Liberian author and journalist who mobilized a Muslim and Christian “army of women in white” to pray together for peace in a nation ripped apart from years of civil war.
Winning with her is Africa’s first democratically elected woman leader, the Liberian Iron Lady who defied a corrupt, repressive regime, “brought stability to a place that was going to hell” and paved a political path for women across the African continent.
The third is a young Yemeni democracy activist who defied death threats as she boldly told a despot that “you won’t shackle my freedom.”
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been a political mentor to women across Africa with her high-flying, 30-year career, her peacemaking and her efforts to rebuild a shattered economy. Her fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee has shown the world just how powerful persistent cross-cultural alliances of women can be. “Women brought sanity to Liberia,” she wrote. And Yemeni journalist and activist Tawakkul Karman, a champion of the Arab Spring against Yemen’s autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh, is a tireless Islamist democrat and the first Arab woman to win the prize.
“Leymah Gbowee confronted armed forces in Liberia to demand that they stop using rape as a weapon. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became Africa’s first woman to win a free presidential election. Tawakkul Karman began pushing for change in Yemen long before the Arab Spring. They share a commitment to women’s rights in regions where oppression is common, and on Friday they shared the Nobel Peace Prize.” notes the Chicago Sun-Times:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee honored women for the first time in seven years, and in selecting Karman it also recognized the Arab Spring movement championed by millions of often anonymous activists from Tunisia to Syria.
Prize committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said it would have been difficult to identify all the movement’s leaders, and that the committee was making an additional statement by selecting Karman to represent their cause.
“Most of the recipients in the award’s 110-year history have been men, and Friday’s decision seemed designed to give impetus to the fight for women’s rights around the world,” reported the New York Times:
“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 citation read by Thorbjorn Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister who heads the Oslo-based Nobel committee that chooses the winner of the $1.5 million prize. In a subsequent interview, he described the prize as “a very important signal to women all over the world.”
Sitting inside her blue tent at the antigovernment sit-in where she has lived since late February, Karman, the Yemeni human rights activist, said “I didn’t expect it,” her eyes growing wide, a red flowered veil around her head. “It came as a total surprise.”
Three incredible women, an inspiration to us all.