Nobel Peace Prize recognizes women rights activists

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By Ruth Owino

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 recognized 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. The women will share the $1.5m (£1m) prize money.

The committee of Nobel Prize hopes that the prize would help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realize the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent. The Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said, “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. The Nobel committee received a total of 241 nominations for this year’s.

Sirleaf Ellen Johnson of Liberia was the first democratic elected female afican head of state, who has since seen as a reformer and peacemaker. Sirleaf Johnson dedicated the award to all Liberian people and a recognition of many years of struggle for justice. She was first elected as the head of state in 2005, following the end of Liberia’s 14-year civil war which left 250,000 people dead, caused thousands to flee abroad and financially ruined the country. Upon coming to office, she pledged to fight corruption and bring “motherly sensitivity and emotion to the presidency” as a way of healing the wounds of war.

Tawakul Karman, is a Yemeni pro-democracy activist, journalist and key leader of protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the first Arab woman to be awarded the peace prize. She heard of her win while in a protest camp where she has been living for several months calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down. She was recognized for playing a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights in Yemen’s pro-democracy protests “in the most trying circumstances”. Mrs Karman said she was dedicating the prize 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”. As the head of Yemeni organisation Women Journalists without Chains, Mrs Karman has been jailed several times over her campaigns for press freedom and her opposition to the government.

The third woman is Liberian peace activist, Leymah Gbowee, who was a leading critic of the violence during the Liberian civil war, mobilizing 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, which had continued despite a peace deal being signed three months earlier. On receiving the news, Leymah Gbowee said, “This is a victory for women rights everywhere in the world. What could be better than three women winning the prize? “This is the recognition that we hear you, we see you, we acknowledge you.”

We congratulate the three women for their struggle for women’s rights.

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