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Three “Nobel” Women

by Imani Lewis

From Left: Leymah Gbowee, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Tawakul Karman
Photo credit: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/08/world/nobel-peace-prize-johnson-sirleaf-gbowee-karman.htm

Not since the 2004 recognition of the late Wangari Maathai has the world seen a female Nobel Peace Prize winner; today we have three. The trio was given the prize in equal parts “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” 1

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, her compatriot Leymah Gbowee, a peace activist, and Tawakul Karman, a Yemeni politician and human rights activist were all named laureates on Friday in London.

All three women have worked tirelessly within their countries to ensure that women’s rights and peace are taken seriously.

Johnson Sirleaf was the first female democratically elected female president of any African nation. In addition to her historic election victory in 2005 , Johnson Sirleaf has also worked to ensure peace in war-torn Liberia, has made efforts to promote the status and power of women in society, and has secured debt forgiveness valued at billions of dollars for her struggling country. While there is still much to be done in the country, Sirleaf’s constituents are impressed with her performance and are grateful for her leadership. Sirleaf is currently in the throes of a battle for reelection.

Her fellow Liberian countrywoman, Leymah Gbowee, has been given credit for uniting women across ethnic and religious backgrounds against warlords through the organization of a sex strike, among other tactics. Inspired by the atrocities of war, Gbowee founded the organization Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. While leading the Women for Peace movement, Gbowee mobilized women in her country and assisted in securing women’s rights to vote in elections by the war’s end in 2003. She is still working on enhancing women’s rights in West African and is also promoting her book Mighty Be Our Powers about her experience during the Liberian civil war.

Tawakul Karman is a senior politician in Yemen’s main opposition party, Islah,  and creator of the human rights group Women Journalists Without Chains. Even before the Arab Spring gained momentum in 2010, Karman was mobilizing women and students for peace and equal rights. She is also known for her vocal criticisms of Yemen’s current president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Due to her liberal stance in a conservative country like Yemen, Karman has been jailed, attacked, and threatened. Still, she isn’t dissuaded by the dangers of protest. Instead she has worked as a feminist and Islamist to ensure equal rights, freedom, peace, and democracy in her country. 2

In a press release announcing the laureates, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said that it would be impossible to “achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” The committee expressed hopes that the awards “will help bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realise the great potential for democracy that peace and women can represent.” 3

With the depth of Karman’s, Gbowee’s, and President Sirleaf’s achievements, they inspire international community to be hopeful for the future of women peace activists.

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