(Photo credit from Nobel Prize website)
“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.” (Nobel Peace Prize Press Release 2011)
With this clear declaration of the urgent need to continue the work for women’s equality as a matter of peace and freedom, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee made a stunning choice this year: three women representing human rights struggles in Africa and the Middle East became the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian Peace Organizer Leymah Gbowee, and “Arab Spring” Activist Leader Tawakkul Karman of Yemen share this rare honor.
Women are only infrequent recipients of the Nobel Prizes, including the Peace Prize, so the very fact of a trio of great women claiming this year’s prize is remarkable. And what extraordinary women they are! Each in her own sphere of influence is worthy of recognition, acclaim and emulation.
Tawakkul Karman is a courageous Arab woman who has defied convention and cultural norms in Yemen to lead the anti-government movement there. The New York Times quotes a professor from Cairo University who describes the impact of her receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize:
“Giving it to a woman and an Islamist? That means a sort of re-evaluation,” said Nadia Mostafa, a professor of international relations at Cairo University. “It means Islam is not against peace, it’s not against women, and Islamists can be women activists, and they can fight for human rights, freedom and democracy.” (Laura Kasinof and Robert F. Worth, “Among 3 Women Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, a Nod to the Arab Spring,” New York Times, online edition, October 7, 2011)
Leymah Gbowee worked for years to bring peace to her native country Liberia, but she was amazed to receive the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. Speaking in New York at a lecture originally set to discuss her memoir of the Liberian war “Mighty Be Our Powers,” she said this about why women are so important to the peace movement:
“There’s no way you can fix a community and say you can find a solution for that community when you only use half of the community,” she said. “When men make peace, it’s not a total peace.”
Rebuilding societies ravaged by war, she said, is not “just talking about the guns coming down. It’s talking about the children going back to school.” (Meredith Hoffman, “Liberian Peace Activist Learns of Nobel Peace Prize While On Book Tour,” New York Times, online edition, October 7, 2011)
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first woman elected as president of an African nation, and she is largely credited with restoring peace and order after years of civil war in that nation. In an interview with Voice of America about her Nobel honor, President Sirleaf extolled the women of Liberia and her sister laureate Leymah Gbowee:
“I particularly want to talk about Liberian women. I am getting this award with Leymah Gbowee. And Leymah Gbowee is very deserving because she mobilized women to challenge a dictatorship – market women, rural women, professional woman, church women – and they sat in the rain and the sun for days advocating for peace.
“We owe it to African women and we can just recommit to working harder for equal opportunity for all women to reach their potential. I hope we become the role models and that that will motivate and inspire women the world over to go for leadership, to take a greater role in their societies.” (President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in an interview with James Butty of Voice of America, online at the Voice of America website, October 7, 2011)
As an institution founded to promote women’s leadership and advancement, with a passionate commitment to the cause of social justice in our world, Trinity salutes these heroic Nobel laureates. Their stories are worthy of study and reflection throughout the campus. In the weeks to come, I look forward to special occasions when our campus community might gather to discuss our own research and perspectives on the cause of peace and the particular importance of having role models like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Lehmah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman to inspire the rising generations of women leaders.
What are your thoughts on the achievements of these women? Please share your comments by clicking on the “comment” link below or send me an email at email@example.com and I will publish your thoughts.
PS — Even as we honor these great women, we recall with sadness the passing of the great Wangari Maathai, the first black African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Her Green Belt Movement gave hope to millions of women in Africa, calling worldwide attention to the inextricable link between environmental stewardship, women’s productivity and healthy families.
See the tributes of world leaders on Wangari Maathai.
See Katherine Marshall, “Halleluja! The Nobel Prize Committee Blesses Feisty, Spiritual Women,” Huffington Post, 10/7/11
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