By Hanna Baird-Herron '15, Contributing Writer
On Oct. 7, the announcement was made that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to three women who have promoted democracy, gender equality and peace throughout the African and Arab worlds. The recipients were Yemeni democracy activist Tawakel Karman, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. According to Norwegian Nobel Committee President Thorbjoern Jagland, the three women won the prize because of their “nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
Tawakel Karman, often known as “Yemen’s Iron Woman,” is the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. Karman is also the first Arab woman awarded the honor. A journalist and prominent member of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, Karman started and remains the leader of the group “Women Journalists Without Chains.” The group promotes democracy, freedom of expression and other human rights.
Karman has also been called the “Mother of the Revolution” for her prominent role in the Yemeni aspect of the Arab Spring, including the hand she had in organizing weekly protests. Karman has accomplished all this while raising three children. She dedicated her award to “all Yemenis who preferred to make their revolution peaceful by facing the snipers with flowers. [The award] is for the Yemeni women, for the peaceful protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and all of the Arab world.”
Leymah Gbowee, a mother of six, is a peace activist whose organization of a peace movement helped to end the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. The movement brought together thousands of Christian and Muslim women in Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, who carried out nonviolent protests. With the movement, she also traveled to Ghana to attempt to conclude the stalled peace talks in Accra. Gbowee’s movement and her co- founding of the Women in Peacebuliding Network contributed to the successful election campaign of fellow Nobel Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the president of Liberia and the first and only elected female African head of state. Sirleaf was born in Liberia but later moved to the United States, where she studied at the University of Colorado and Harvard University. She served as Minister of Finance under Liberian President William Tolbert from 1972 to 1973 and 1979 to 1980.
Sirleaf was forced to flee Liberia in 1980 after a violent coup overthrew the government. She returned in 1985 to run for Vice President, but was forced into house arrest and fled to the United States again in 1986. Sirleaf returned to Liberia and successfully ran for president in 2005; she has been in power ever since. In her time as president, Sirleaf has built strong relations with the international community and has brought about an end to the horrible debt conditions in Liberia. Sirleaf is considered one of the best leaders in the world.
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s decision to recognize these three women who have done so much for the world is an important symbolic occurrence. The committee is encouraging women around the world to stand up for their rights.