Peace Prize focus on women’s rights

Ray Maota

Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
was named the most powerful woman
on the African continent by Forbes Africa
and has now won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Tawakkul Karman is an outspoken
journalist and human rights activist
in her home country of Yemen.

Leymah Gbowee was instrumental
in the ending of Liberia’s 14-year
civil war and is still an advocate for peace.
(Images: Nobel Prize)

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Three outstanding women from Africa and the Middle East jointly won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for their tireless, non-violent struggle for women’s rights.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni human rights activist and journalist Tawakkul Karman received the award on 7 October and will share the US$1.5-million (R11-million) prize money that comes with it.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said: “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.”

The committee’s press release added: “It is the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s hope that the prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realise the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent.”

Sirleaf and Gbowee are the second and third African women to win the Nobel prize, while Karman is the first Arab laureate.

Wangari Mathaai, the recently deceased Kenyan environmentalist and political activist, was the first woman from the continent to receive the accolade.

Africa’s first female head of state

Sirleaf became the first democratically elected female president in Africa after the 2005 Liberian presidential elections. She came into power as Liberia’s 14-year civil war was drawing to a close.

Liberians go to the polls again on 11 October and Sirleaf is seeking a second term in office.

The matriarch of African politics was named the most powerful women on the continent in the recently launched Forbes Africa magazine.

Sirleaf said she was pleasantly surprised at the timing of the award but that “it sends a message to the Liberian people that peace must prevail as Liberians go to this critical event”.

Opposition parties have been vocal about the Nobel committee awarding her the prize so close to elections. Some even say she doesn’t deserve it after earlier supporting the regime of Charles Taylor, when he toppled Samuel Doe for the presidency of Liberia.

Fighter for peace

Gbowee was instrumental in the ending of Liberia’s 14-year civil war and is still an advocate for peace.

On her return from Norway on 9 October, she was greeted at the airport by supporters waving placards reading “Welcome to the Nobel Peace Prize winner”.

The peace activist led women across ethnic and religious divides to a football field in the capital city of Monrovia in 2002. Dressed in white t-shirts, the women fasted and prayed for peace in the country.

Under Gbowee’s leadership, the women put pressure on Taylor’s government to reach a ceasefire with the other warring factions in 2003 and they were instrumental in the signing of the Accra Peace Accord.

She said: “The prize is for all Liberians and for all women in Africa, from Sierra Leone, Ghana to Togo to Zimbabwe.

“Peace is a process, it is not an event and people should not think that six years of democracy are going to deliver all the things that we are looking for. I think right now we are on the right path, we just need to continue on that path and I think everything will fall into place.”

‘Arab Spring’ leads to Nobel prize

Karman is an outspoken journalist and human rights activist in her home country of Yemen.

She has been an advocate for press freedom, has fought for the release of political prisoners and has voiced her disapproval of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen.

Karman said: “The Nobel prize is awarded to the great Yemeni people. The first money that will be returned to the public treasury is the money received from the Nobel Peace Prize.

“All the youth and women in Egypt, in Libya, Syria and Yemen, this is a victory for our demand for citizenship and human rights.”