Democracy and lasting peace impossible without women: the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners
Today at 13.00 CET, the Nobel Peace Prize 2011 will be awarded to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.
Why have these three women been chosen to receive the award and what have “women’s rights” got to do with peace-building?
As the Norwegian Nobel Committee says, “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.”
In announcing the 2011 winners, the committee cited United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, which states that “women and children suffer great harm from war and political stability and that women must have a larger influence and role in peacemaking activities”.
The resolution also calls on all actors involved to adopt a gender perspective when negotiating and implementing peace agreements.
It is the committee’s hope that awarding the prize to these three women will bring to an end the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and “to realise the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent”.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, is Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state. Since her inauguration in 2006, she has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women.
The 72-year-old is known as the “Iron Lady” by her supporters.
Throughout her career she has advocated for the rights of women and stressed the importance of education in providing a better future for her country and its people.
As well as rebuilding post-conflict Liberia, she is also chairperson of the Mano River Union, which works for political stability and economic cooperation among Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.
She was a founding member of the International Institute for Women in Political Leadership, served on the committee to investigate the Rwanda genocide in 1999, was a Commission Chair for the Inter-Congolese Dialogue, and was selected by UNIFEM to investigate and report on the effect of conflict on women and women’s roles in peace building.
Before becoming president, Johnson Sirleaf was Assistant Administrator and Director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau of Africa, with the rank of Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations.
She has also served on many advisory boards, including the International Crisis Group (USA) and Women Waging Peace (USA).
Another Liberian ‘warrior’, Leymah Gbowee, 39, mobilised and organised women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the brutal 14-year war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections. She has since worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war.
She led a peaceful campaign of picketing, protesting, fasting and praying to demand the conflict between former president Charles Taylor and the rebel forces stop.
Gbowee is currently the head of the Ghana-based Women Peace and Security Network (WPSN).
She trained as a counsellor after living through two civil wars that ravaged Liberia from 1989 to 2003, and worked with women and girls raped by militiamen.
In 2003, in perhaps her greatest moment, she brought thousands of women together in the capital, Monrovia, and helped to push President Taylor out of office and end the conflict. Taylor is now on trial at The Hague charged with war crimes.
In the most trying circumstances, both before and during the “Arab spring”, Tawakkul Karman, 32, has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen.
She became the face of the Yemeni uprising in the international press, and her receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize makes her the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman and only the second Muslim woman to win a Nobel prize. She is also the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
She is a Yemeni journalist and politician, being a senior member of the Al-Islah opposition party. She is also the co-founder and head of Women Journalists Without Chains, a group whose aim is to promote human rights.
Over her career she has called attention to high illiteracy rates (two-thirds of women in Yemen), advocated for laws that would prevent girls under 17 marrying and led protests against government corruption.
During the 2011 protests, she organised student rallies against Saleh’s government, took part in numerous protests and been arrested.