Youth activists like Greta Thunberg deserve Nobel nod: 2011 laureate
Energised and inspiring youth activists leading the charge on climate change and gun control would be good picks for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, according to past winner Leymah Gbowee.
The Liberian community organiser and social worker, who led women to defy feared warlords during the country's drawn-out civil wars that ended in 2003, hailed the growing youth engagement seen worldwide.
"Young people are on the move to change the world for good," Gbowee told AFP this week in Geneva, where she was attending a conference on arms control.
Speaking just over a week before the Norwegian Nobel Committee announces this year's prize-winners, she said she would "love, love, love" to see the award go jointly to Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and March For Our Lives gun-control advocates in the United States.
Thunberg's global climate movement "Fridays for Future" began just over a year ago when she started sitting alone outside Sweden's parliament with her now iconic sign reading: "School strike for the climate".
Gbowee, who jointly won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman, marvelled at how Thunberg had "taken the world by storm" -- spurring millions of youths to demand action from politicians against climate disaster.
- 'Change will happen' -
"She took a huge global issue and made it personal," Gbowee said, stressing that activists for other causes should take note and convey how specifically things like environmental degradation and weapons proliferation will impact populations worldwide.
"Until we personalise the whole conversation around nuclear weapons and arms, it continues to be a conversation (only) with people in suits," she said.
But if you explain the personal impact of an issue, "citizens will rise up and then change will happen."
She emphasised that Thunberg was not the only youth activist making waves.
"This is a story about a mobilised population of young people... There is a momentum," she said, warning against focusing too closely on a single issue.
"Right now, what is trending is climate change. So the potential or the ability of people to forget about wars and weapons is there," she said, stressing that the climate change fight is "interconnected" with a wide range of other pressing issues.
Global warming, she pointed out, can take a toll on rain forests and farmland and thus strip away livelihoods, driving migration and strife over dwindling resources, and sparking conflicts that disproportionately impact women and children.
- 'Sex strike' -
Gbowee herself is famous for finding creative solutions.
In 2002 she organised a sex strike in Liberia that has been credited with helping to halt 14 years of civil war in her country.
The 47-year-old told AFP that Liberian women's decision to withhold sex from their husbands until they agreed to put down their weapons and work for peace represented "just a tiny bit" of their work to end the violence.
But "once we put it out there, the media picked it up and it became the best media strategy you have ever seen... because of course the world we live in is overly sexualised."
The tactic has also proved successful in other countries, but Gbowee said she hoped women could soon make their voices heard -- without adding sex to the mixture.
"I believe that we should get to a place... where we do not need to be talking about our vaginas to get attention."
Gbowee said she was grateful that her Nobel prize had provided her with a platform to continue "doing good for humanity".
She said she strived to keep "earning" her prize by remaining engaged in local communities and voicing their concerns.
The prize, she said, "comes with a huge burden" to speak up for positive change, "not just in my own country but for all of Africa and the world by extension".
Gbowee meanwhile dismissed US President Donald Trump's repeated assertions that he deserves to receive a Nobel.
"I feel like there are a lot of clouds around President Trump. His policies seem to be more divisive than collective," she said.
© 2019 AFP