Nobel Peace Prize recognises women rights activists

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman The women had led the non-violent struggle for women's political rights, said the committee

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This year's Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded jointly to three women - Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman of Yemen.

They were recognised for their "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work".

Mrs Sirleaf is Africa's first female elected head of state, Ms Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist and Ms Karman is a leading figure in Yemen's pro-democracy movement.

"We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women achieve the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society," said Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland in Oslo.

Reading from the prize citation, he said the committee hoped the prize would "help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realise the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel - deemed by Forbes the world's most powerful woman - called the award a "wise decision".

Nobel committee chair Thorbjorn Jagland announced the awards

But Mrs Sirleaf's main rival in polls this coming Tuesday, Winston Tubman, told the BBC she did not deserve the prize and was a "warmonger".

Arab Spring

Mrs Karman heard of her win from protest camp Change Square in the capital Sanaa, where she has been living for several months calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down.

She was recognised for playing a leading part in the struggle for women's rights in Yemen's pro-democracy protests "in the most trying circumstances" and is the first Arab woman to win the prize.

As the head of Yemeni organisation Women Journalists without Chains, Mrs Karman has been jailed several times.

Mrs Karman told BBC Arabic she was dedicating it to "all the martyrs and wounded of the Arab Spring" - the wave of unrest which has swept the Middle East and North Africa in the past year - and to "all the free people who are fighting for their rights".

Tawakul Karman, speaking from Change Square in Sanaa: "It's victory for all the dreams, all the struggles"

Mr Jagland said the oppression of women was "the most important issue" in the Arab world and that awarding the prize to Ms Karman was "giving the signal that if it [the Arab Spring] is to succeed with efforts to make democracy, it has to include women".

'Iron Lady'

Mrs Sirleaf, 72, who had been widely tipped as a winner, said the award was "for all Liberian people" and a recognition of "many years of struggle for justice".

She was elected in 2005, following the end of Liberia's bloody and ruinous 14-year civil war.

Upon coming to office, the US-educated economist and former finance minister - known as Liberia's "Iron Lady" - pledged to fight corruption and bring "motherly sensitivity and emotion to the presidency".

2011 Peace Prize laureates

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - President of Liberia

  • first democratically elected female African head of state
  • seen as a reformer and peacemaker after Liberia's civil war

Tawakul Karman - Yemeni pro-democracy activist

  • journalist and key leader of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh
  • first Arab woman to be awarded the peace prize

Leymah Gbowee - Liberian peace activist

  • mobilised female opposition to Liberia's civil war
  • encouraged women to participate in political process

Mrs Sirleaf is standing in Tuesday's election, having previously said she would only hold the presidency for one term.

Her rival Mr Tubman denounced the award, saying she had "brought war here".

She had initially backed the rebels of Charles Taylor - currently on trial for war crimes in The Hague.

Although she has apologised, Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that she be barred from holding public office for 30 years.

"I did more to stop the war than she did because she was for continuing the war," Mr Tubman said.

"Now that the war has stopped she wants to continue on top of the country as though she is some liberator. She is not."

He told AFP news agency the timing of the award was "provocative".

But Archbishop Desmond Tutu and U2 singer Bono welcomed Mrs Sirleaf's honouring, with Mr Tutu telling AFP: "Woo hoo. She deserves it many times over. She's brought stability to a place that was going to hell."

Her compatriot Ms Gbowee was a leading critic of the violence during the Liberian civil war, mobilising women across ethnic and religious lines in peace activism and encouraging them to participate in elections.

In 2003 she led a march through the capital, Monrovia, demanding an end to the rape of women by soldiers.

The Nobel Committee said she had "worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war".

Ms Gbowee told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme: "I am confused. I am humbled. This is the first time in the 39 years of my life that I am out of words.

Recent Nobel Peace Prize winners

2010 - Liu Xiaobo - Chinese dissident lawyer

2009 - US President Barack Obama

2008 - Martti Ahtisaari, former Finnish president

2007 - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), former US vice-president and environmental campaigner Al Gore

2006 - Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank

2005 - International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its president, Mohamed El Baradei

"This is a victory for women rights everywhere in the world. What could be better then three women winning the prize?

"This is the recognition that we hear you, we see you, we acknowledge you."

The women will share the $1.5m (£1m) prize money.

The BBC's world affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge says that the Nobel Peace Prize originally recognised those who had already achieved peace, but that its scope has broadened in recent years to encourage those working towards peace and acknowledge work in progress.

The Nobel committee received a record 241 nominations for this year's prize - among the individuals and groups believed to have been put forward were the European Union, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and key cyber dissidents in the Arab Spring movement.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    82.Total Mass Retain
    1 Minute Ago
    "Green Future
    Proves how much media coverage "Peace" get these days because I've never heard of the three women."

    How many recipients of the prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and economics have you ever heard of?



  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    "Green Future
    Proves how much media coverage "Peace" get these days because I've never heard of the three women."

    How many recipients of the prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and economics have you ever heard of?

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Personally, I think anyone who improves the plight of millions of fellow human beings, irrespective of their gender, age, race or other considerations, is representing ALL of us, by enhancing our collective humanity. But then, I'm just a woman, what do I know?

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Prior female recipients: Bertha von Suttner - Austria, 1905, Jane Addams - USA, 1931, Emily Greene Balch - USA, 1946, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan - Northern Irland, 1976, Mother Teresa - India/Makedonia, 1979, Alva Myrdal - Sweden, 1982, Aung San Suu Kyi - Burma, 1991, Rigoberta Menchu - Guatemala, 1992, Jody Williams - USA, 1997, Shirin Ebadi - Iran, 2003, Wangari Maathai - Kenya, 2004.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    PC rubbish. Now I dont want people jumping up and down in outrage,I fully support a womans right to seek and be granted full equality in all matters pertaining to education and careers and indeed on pay and working conditions but a womans priority if she chooses to marry and have children must be her husband and children. We have tried the alternative and it doesn't work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    I think the Nobel Peace prize has become a joke. Last year it was President Obama... for what reason? Ellen Sirleaf for being elected president of Liberia - is the American accent? If there are looking for a woman why not the former Irish President (Mary Robinson) who has struggled endlessly to bring peace to many corners of the globe.
    Tata.. Tata... what a lullably.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    "76. David Traynier "

    You did read the bit I wrote that said: "We can debate whether this was an honourable outcome and the tactics to bring adversaries to the negotiating table," did you? Should I spell it out a bit more?

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Total Mass Retain,

    You should read The Trial of Henry Kissinger by C. Hitchens -in it, he makes a compelling case that Kissinger is, in fact, a war criminal of the highest order. As for ending a 'war' -at best he could be said to have ended one of the US's more revolting acts of aggression -one that left several million dead and 3 countries (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) virtually destroyed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Proves how much media coverage "Peace" get these days because I've never heard of the three women.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Every human should first and foremost be considered human and not oppressed for being one gender or another. This whole world is still in the dark ages in this respect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Do people know what and who Nobel was
    If they did they would refuse this hypocrite his blood money
    This man killed millions with his explosives
    It is a curse not a prize

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    There women represent the stuggle that exists for women in oppressed societies, there are not many countries where the men are oppressed and it is usually the men that are doing the oppressing. I applaud these women wholeheartedly for their bravery and determination. Congratulations

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    I am delighted to read that these 3 women have won the peace prize.

    I pray that they will be an example to Mrs Odicean, who currently would stand as much chance of winning it as Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Obama hasn't done anything to deserve it any more than Kissinger."

    Kissinger did at least bring a war to a conclusion. We can debate whether this was an honourable outcome and the tactics to bring adversaries to the negotiating table, but a war not started by him was brought to an end under his watch.

  • Comment number 69.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Elizabeth Tudors genocidal tendencies towards her fellow English"

    Elizabeth I was hardly "genocidal", compared to her father, sister, great great uncle, successor's son and his immediate successor, nor according to the norms of the time (there was no "St Bartholomew's Eve" equivalent massacre of catholics in England). For the time she was a model monarch and perhaps our greatest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Congratulations to all three. I don't know anything about them beyond what is written in the article but they surely merit the award more than Barack Obama -who orders the extra judicial murder of terrorist suspects and is currently waging war on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, and engaging in terrorism ( 'drone attacks') in several more countries.

    Of course, giving it to Kissinger did not help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    It is not just Non-western women this prize to these women is an inspiration too as there are plenty of glass ceilings in place in the west for white working class females across Europe and especially in Britain. Well done Norway for leading the way in the world for telling the truth in today's world which even manages to hide Oppression in the guise of "political correctness" ignoring the truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    @ 52 Surelynot. OK then. Let's just say more non English women leaders would promote greater peace in the world, if you prefer? The role of women leaders in Africa is crucial to improving governance, for the same reasons micro finance (at its best) works so well. Thatcher probably did provoke the Falklands war through defense cuts but perhaps her alliance with Reagan helped end the Cold War.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Good on them ! Perhaps we call all learn from their example.


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