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 123.

    Congratualation to them but i see some over exaggeration of praises especially from Bishop Tutu about how Pres. Sirleaf so deserve it. I will agreed with her stance on women issues in Liberia but to say she has brough peace and stability to a country (Liberia) that was going to hell is a complete fallacy. Liberia, in the absence of UN peace keepers is a return to pre-UN status. You got it wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    How wonderful to see hitherto unsung toilers get this award rather than the usual crowd of politicians who waft in to an exotic resort in their private jets to put their gold pens to a treaty worked out by their assistants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    ........ jeez, an' I thought it was going to "mars"?
    Sweet!! ... about frikkin' time, too!! ...... and I thought it was between Gaddafi, Mubarek or Saleh? Big round of applause for the losers, ladies and gentlemen! Roll up, roll up! Get'cher nobel prize here! Just another few boxes of ammo and we'll throw in a fuzzy animal!

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    I feel very proud to be a Liberian because of of the achievement that my fellow compatriot and my beloved President have achieve in the struggle for women rights and social justice for all women around the world I say congrat to all the award winners

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    This is the best news I heard all week. May I congratulate the three individual recipients who each in their own way are a credit to womanhood. It is about time women were recognized for this prize & especially women who are living & working for the rights of women locally. It also represents all women worldwide who are daily against all odds standing up for womanhood. This is a good day in 2011.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    ref #89

    Pointing out that many of the recent winners are villians now violates House rules.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Dear Nobel Peace Prize Committee

    No more condescending citations about "women's potential" please.

    At least you didn't make idiots of yourselves with your choice this time. Choosing the European Union or the Facebook founder would, er, not have been so wise.

    Three cheers for these remarkable women!

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

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

    Perhaps because none of them created/strenghtened any peace.

    Not that male laureats, such as Le Duc tho and Yasser Arafat have ever done anything for peace. On the contrary...

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    These women may well deserve recognition but. in my opinion, since Barak Obama won the award in 2009, it has lost any credibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    The whole process in flawed. How can Obama win this on his own for doing nothing, yet these 3 people have to share the prize for achieving what they have with the only common theme being they are women working for womens' rights?
    This must be the first time the prize has been diluted so that 3 separate achievements have been honored (vs the prize being split by 3 people working for the same aim).

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    2 Hours ago
    52. surelynot

    ..and Bloody Mary, Queen Isabella, Catherine the Great, Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir,


    All of them hardly bleeding heart peaceniks with a soft touch.

    Not that it matters, but so much for silly stereotypes.

    ["men from Mars are hunters/warriers, women from Venus are gatherers and hearth warmers"]

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    "104 surelynot

    No English monarch can be seriously compared to mass genocidal maniacs in the 20th Century. Nor can they be compared with contemporary European rulers who, for instance, wiped out 1/3 of the German population in the 30 years War. Religious intolerance in England was peanuts in comparison to European states. English monarchs did not have absolute powers, as Charles I learnt.

  • Comment number 111.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    This is indeed a victory for women everywhere, constantly struggling to be taken more seriously in a male dominated world. I'd like to pat each of them on the bottom and say "Well done dearies".

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Has Obama given his back yet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    hizento -- Have you been under a rock all of your life? Hopefully, you are NOT a woman. Perhaps you never got the message that women DO represent children and men, as well as other women. It is how we are created.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    First of all i would like to thanks to the Nobel prize authority for giving reward those tree women for their contribution in peace. It will encourage another women to do welfare work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Given my cynical view, I very much doubt in the so called good intentions of these people and their so called struggles for others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Advancement in women;srights, essential to peace building throughout the world. Not least of the rights in question must be the right to control their own reproduction. A right often denied in male dominated cultures. Sadly unless the world gets to grip with its fast growing population problem, I believe war will be inevitable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Total mass retain

    Arguing that Elizabeth Tudor authorising killing sprees was no worse than what other murderers did is like saying Hitler was not so bad because look at what Stalin did.

    Maybe it's ok because she was what some call 'royal' -whatever that is - and that propaganda written since her death attempts to airbrush the facts.

    Elizabeth isn't that common a name in Ireland.I wonder why?


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