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The women of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-10-07

Three women, two from Liberia and one from Yemen, won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, in an acknowledgement of their peaceful participation in pro-democracy and gender equality movements in Africa and the Arab world.

Three women from Africa and the Arab world were awarded 2011’s Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in recognition of their active involvement in pro-democracy movements and promoting women’s rights. The recipients of the prize were Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and activists Leymah Gbowee, also from Liberia, and Tawakul Karman from Yemen. Here’s a closer look at their backgrounds and work.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Harvard-educated Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, age 72, has been in power since 2006, and was Africa’s first democratically elected female leader. Her role in re-shaping Liberia’s reputation on the world stage has earned her international acclaim as an effective reformer, and she has also been credited with fighting corruption and instituting free compulsory primary education.

She is currently embroiled in a bruising re-election campaign, with her opponents accusing her of taking her eye off the ball in her anti-corruption crackdown and not doing enough to ease tensions between different Liberian communities.

Before beginning her term as president, Johnson Sirleaf spent several years abroad, working as an economist for the World Bank and a director in charge of Africa at the UN Development Programme.

She returned to Liberia to run for the presidency in 1997 against Charles Taylor. She lost decisively, her image of fearlessness earned the nickname “Liberian Iron Lady”.

Reacting to the news of her win on Friday from her home in Monrovia, Sirleaf said “I'm accepting this on behalf of the Liberian people, so credit goes to them….Liberians should be proud.”

Tawakkul Karman

The first Arab woman to win the Nobel Prize, 32-year-old Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman has been living in a tent in Change Square in central Sanaa since February as part of a sit-in calling for sweeping changes in her country. Her award is seen as a formal international acknowledgement of the power and importance of the Arab Spring.

A journalist, mother of three, and member of the opposition Islah Islamic party, Karman heads the rights group Women Journalists Without Chains and has been a key organiser of demonstrations against President Ali Abdullah Saleh since January, when the anti-regime protests started sweeping the country. Her brief arrest in January was seen as an impetus for the acceleration of the movement, especially among Yemeni youth, and she has since been called “the Mother of the Revolution”. She has been known to devote significant time to trying to get detained protesters out of jail.

Last year, Karman switched from wearing the niqab, a conservative Muslim garb that leaves only the eyes visible, to wearing the more moderate headscarf. The reason she gave was her need to appear “face to face with activist colleagues”.

Karman is a proponent of non-violent resistance, and has cited Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Gandhi as influences on her political activism.

Leyma Gbowee

Women’s rights activist Leyma Gbowee, 39, who heads the Women for Peace movement, was singled out by the Nobel committee for her work in bringing together Muslim and Christian Liberian women to help push back against the country’s warlords. She was also praised by the committee for facilitating women’s participation in the country’s elections.

Gbowee created her foundation in 2002, and immediately took action organising peaceful, female-led demonstrations against the rape and violence targetting women during Liberia’s 14 years of brutal civil war. In November 2003, Gbowee led hundreds of female protesters dressed in white (symbolising peace) through the streets of Monrovia, demanding the disarmament of fighters who had been raping women and young girls. She also promoted a “sex strike” in an effort to end civil war in the country.

She currently works in Ghana as the head of the African office of Women Peace and Security Network – Africa, an NGO that aims to promote the role of women in peace and security initiatives all over the continent.

Liberian Minister for Gender and Development reacted to Gbowee’s prize by saying that “Woman all over Africa and the world will be proud.”

Date created : 2011-10-07

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