Working for Peace

Three women fighting for peace and women’s rights will share this year’s Nobel Peace Prize

October 11, 2011

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize is shared by three women: (from left to right) Liberian Leymah Gbowee, Yemeni Tawakkul Karman and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Three women who share a commitment to women’s rights in their separate work won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, which was announced on Friday. They are Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, women’s rights activist Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman from Yemen.

The Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee, which selects the Nobel Peace Prize winner each year, is honoring women with the prize for the first time in seven years. The committee is recognizing the women for their non-violent struggle for women’s safety and rights. “We cannot 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 said in a statement.

A Prize for Peace

The Nobel Peace Prize is named for the award’s creator, Alfred Nobel, an inventor and entrepreneur from Sweden. In his 1895 will, he left most of his wealth to a series of prizes, named the Nobel Prizes. He left guidelines for a peace prize, saying it should honor work that is bringing fraternity between nations, reducing armies and holding and promoting peace. Since 1901, 92 Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded. The prize can be given to one person or organization or divided between two or three works. Other Nobel Prizes are awarded for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature.

Peace Fighters

The three 2011 winners—Sirleaf, Gbowee and Karman—will share the $1.5 million award. They will receive gold medallions at a ceremony in December in Oslo, Norway. They share a passion for peace and women’s rights, but each woman is doing her own important work.

Sirleaf, 72, won Liberia’s presidential election in 2005. Known as a reformer and peacemaker in Liberia, she was the first woman to win a free presidential election in an African country. Sirleaf has helped Liberia recover from a brutal 14-year civil war that ended in 2003. The Nobel committee is recognizing her work in securing peace and stability in her country and her efforts to put Liberian women’s issues in the global spotlight. Her education reform has led to mandatory free elementary schooling for all children in Liberia. Sirleaf has been an inspiration to women and young girls in Liberia. She is currently running for re-election. "This [award] gives me a stronger commitment to work for reconciliation," Sirleaf said on Friday. "Liberians should be proud."

Gbowee, 39, works as the director of Women Peace and Security Network Africa in Ghana. The Nobel committee says she is being honored for organizing women “across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections.”  Gbowee organized Christian and Muslim women to challenge Liberia’s aggressive military fighters, who were known for attacking women during Liberia’s civil war.

Karman, 32, is a journalist and human right’s activist. She is the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Karman has long been an advocate for human rights and freedom of expression in Yemen, her extremely conservative country. She was a leader in organizing protests against Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s oppressive regime in January. The protests were part of democracy uprisings that became known as the Arab Spring. Her big win symbolizes the important role women play in the uprisings. "I am very, very happy about this prize," Karman said. "I give the prize to the youth of revolution in Yemen and the Yemeni people."

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