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 103.

    Nobel Peace Prize winners come and go and so often we haven't heard of many of them in the first place (if we are honest?) and then they are mostly forgotten in an amazingly short time span.
    Who cares about the PRIZE as such and should we not be beholden to those who achieve real change and reform lives for good?

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    ALL of these women would have been disposed of by the authorities in their countries, but because from the elite in each country, they were untouchable & had protection. They are not like the women (& men) in these counties who disappeared. Same another lady Nobel winner, from Burma. Her General father was no different than the present Junta. Never worked or contributed to the people. Just rich.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    ah good news at last, pity it's not from this country though, we have nothing but bad news here day after day from this government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    What is wrong with giving an award to some person who have contributed to the world, but since dead anyway."

    Nothing, but the terms of Alfred Nobel's will do not permit this. Rosie Franklin should arguably have been on the prize for DNA, but had died. However the committee have now set the precedent that one has to be living when the decision is made, not necessarily when it is announced

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    " RedKnight007
    Much more deserved than Obama's win last year."

    Obama won in 2009, not last year. Last year's winner was Liu Xiaobo

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    I think the point of the peace prize is a recognition of the selfless work of these women. Whether the Nobel prize is considered a joke or meaningless is irrelevant and one can only hope the comittee will continue to award the prize to people who truly merit it regardless of race or gender. These women deserved it for their work- it was not based on their gender. An inspiration to all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    I admire these women, and deplore your dungaree-sexism

    //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//

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Congratulations to you three women who devote their time to struggle for peace both for women and for the world! They not fear power, be jailed or some approach to hit them.They are great!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    @90.Total Mass Retain. Thankyou for your update. The article I read said that Nobel Committee would not consider posthumus (spelling OK?) giving it to the guy, as it had never been done before. What is wrong with giving an award to some person who have contributed to the world, but since dead anyway. Foundation or family can benefit. Let Nobel set up a Steve Jobs Foundation up in his memory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    BRAVA! I was beginning to despair after Obama. Women as the bringers of life are our best hope.Who were the female dictators we can think of? Watch a mother touch her new-born and you'll see where peace more power to women around our global village.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Before today, 86 men and only 12 women have received the Nobel Peace Prize, today + 3 women. Progress

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Much more deserved than Obama's win last year. Shame this will probably get less publicity than Mr Jobs

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.


    Shouldn't a MANS priority if HE chooses to have a child be his wife (who has just faced the most dangerous 9 months of her life) and his children? Men are equally capable at child rearing. To suggest that women should be the one to be the one to stop work is to ignore all those men bringing up their families in equal measure to their partners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Read some guy died 3 days ago & was in line for an award, but they cannot award after his death because of protacol. "

    If you'd kept on reading you would have read that the Nobel committee did award it to Ralph Steinman even though he died just before announcement. Had he died before they took their decision it may well have been different but then we would not have known.

  • Comment number 89.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    I dont care if the Nobel Prize is a joke or that it was 3 Women...

    Well done to the 3 people that have done so much and earned an award for there hard work!....

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Nobel Prize, a joke.
    Maybe can't disagree with Mandella's. Some guy's over the years who have made significant impact for science & technology which have improved the world, OK. Anually NO. Read some guy died 3 days ago & was in line for an award, but they cannot award after his death because of protacol. If they were to award something worthwhile this year it could be for Steve Jobs

  • Comment number 86.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    "83. Green Future

    Every year and every prize?

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Only THREE women ??!
    AS only Liberal thoughts are allowed on this `democratic' BBC site whats the point in saying anything other than Oh that's wonderful


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