Linking Present to Past

Three Nobel Peace Prize Winners, 2011


Tawakkol Karman - Yeman
Leymah Gbowee - Liberia
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - Liberia

In 2011 the world was surprised to discover that three women were all awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In a nod to the continuing empowerment of women, the Nobel Prize Committee’s citation read: “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.”

All three women have been long time peace activists credited with backing movements which push peaceful change from the ground up.

Tawakkol Karman, in Sanaa, Yemen, in a tent during a sit-in on 5 October, 2011.
Photo: Ahmed Jadallah/Scanpix

Tawakkol Karman is a leading member of Yemen’s largest Islamist party, Islah. A liberal Islamist who stopped wearing the full facial veil, she worked for women’s rights long before she achieved international recognition for her involvement in Yemen’s version of the “Arab Spring.” Drawing on her concern with violence against women, she created a safe space for women to congregate. Stating that her inspiration for peaceful change has come from methods demonstrated by Martin Luther King, she says that women’s special negotiation skills can be utilized for peaceful actions in the midst of rebellions.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Leymah Gbowee, two of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
Copyright © Lyn Hughes, Global Fund for Women

Leymah Gbowee led a mass open-air women’s protest movement which helped end the 14-year war in Liberia in 2003 by shaming the warlords into heeding the women’s demands. The movement helped force the president/dictator Charles Taylor into exile, and welcomed in a United Nations pacification force.

Gbowee worked to get Christian and Muslim women to put aside their religious differences and fight the murderers with peace. Dressed in white, the women gathered in public places and prayed, sang, and danced for peace. The Manifesto she bravely read in 1994 in front of the dictator Taylor expressed the sentiments of the group:

“We, the women of Liberia, are the mothers of the land. We feel the joys and sorrows of this land in a special way because we are women. Not only do we represent one half of the population, but we also feel a special sense of responsibility for our children, our husbands and our brothers who make up the other half of the population. We take care of the society. We soothe the pains. We are the healers and peacemakers. We call on all women of Liberia at home and abroad to unite and join our efforts in aiding the peace process in Liberia clear to its final hurdle.”

Ms. Gbowee said that by giving the Nobel Peace Prize to three women is a “recognition that we can’t ignore the other half of the world’s population.“

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia in 2005 was the first woman elected as a head of state in Africa. Perhaps best known by the outside world as the woman who calmed a country ravaged by years of brutal civil war, she also is credited with mounting the negotiations that wiped out the country’s 4.6 billion in foreign debt.

President Sirleaf’s election in large part was accomplished through the work of women who previously had demonstrated for peace in the midst of the civil wars. Acknowledging the continuing role these women have played in healing Liberia, she said: “We particularly give this credit to Liberian women, who have consistently led the struggle for peace, even under conditions of neglect.”


•   The first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize

•   A list of other female Nobel Peace Prize winners

•   An essay, “Peace as an Early Woman’s Issue

•   Short quotes and follow-up questions at “Quotable Women for Peace

Samples of ways women have opposed war

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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