Nobel Peace Prize: three heroic women honoured

Oct 7, 2011
Venetia Rainey

Awards is shared by three women, one of whom used a sex strike to help bring peace to Liberia

AS EVER, predictions for the winners of this year's Nobel Peace Prize proved way off the mark. Instead of recognising the much-hyped crop of Arab Spring social media activists, the committee awarded the $1.5m prize to three women who they praised for being active in their countries "long before the world's media was there reporting".
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, her compatriate Leymah Gbowee and the Yemeni rights campaigner Tawakul Karman were chosen for "their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for a women's right to full participation in peace-building work," explained Nobel committee head Thorbjorn Jagland.
"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," said Jagland, adding that the decision was "a very important signal to women all over the world".
So, who are this year's winners?
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
The current president of war-torn Liberia, Johnson-Sirleaf (above centre) is known affectionately as the 'Iron Lady' for her refusal to be cowed by her often aggressive male counterparts, a strength she partly credits to having survived an abusive husband. The 72-year-old was the first women to be elected as head of state in Africa in 2005, and has made much of her belief that women make better leaders than men because they are more honest, work harder and are more committed.
Controversially, she supported former Liberian leader and alleged war criminal Charles Taylor during his first uprising, leading Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to recommend she be barred from holding public office for 30 years. She has since apologised, and will be standing for re-election next week, a campaign sure to be helped by the Nobel prize.
Leymah Gbowee
A prominent peace and women's rights activist in Liberia, Gbowee (above right) was instrumental in bringing an end to the second Liberian civil war in 2003. After years of sit-ins, the 39-year-old organised a sex-strike in 2002 which united Liberia's Christian and Muslim women in their demand for the violence to end. She managed to engineer a meeting with the Liberian leader at the time, Charles Taylor, to ask him to attend peace talks in Ghana.
And when the talks stalled, Gbowee led 200 or so other women in barring the room's exit, threatening to strip naked in public if they were forcibly removed. Two weeks later, the Accra peace treaty was announced. She now lives in Ghana with her six children, where she runs the women-focused NGO, Women, Peace and Security Network Africa.
Tawakul Karman
The 32-year-old (above left) has been campaigning for change in Yemen for over five years, and has previously been imprisoned for her activism. Karman works as a journalist - founding Women Journalists Without Chains in 2005 - a human rights activist and a member of the country's leading Islamic opposition party, the Islah.
A mother of three, she is the first Arab woman to win the prize, and was noted by the committee for playing a "leading part in the struggle for women's rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen" even while facing the "most trying circumstances". Karman decided to wear the hijab instead of the full veil a few years ago, saying that it was "not suitable for a woman who wants to work in activism and the public domain" to cover her face.

Yemeni media channels were not broadcasting the news of her win at the time of publishing.

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