The Norwegian Nobel Committee moved away from highly controversial choices on Friday to award this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to three women in Liberia and Yemen who the committee believes have played important roles in creating peace, reconciliation and democracy.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen were awarded the prize in three equal parts for what the committee called their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
The committee noted that Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first democratically elected female president and that she has contributed to securing peace in Liberia since her inauguration in 2006. Gbowee, meanwhile, mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious lines to bring an end to years of civil war in Liberia and ensure their participation in the election. Karman, a journalist and activist in Yemen, has played a leading role in the struggle for women’s rights, democracy and peace in Yemen, long before and during the “Arab Spring” uprisings this year.
Thorbjørn Jagland, leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, stressed that women are often the ones who suffer the most during war and conflict, since rape and violence are used as a weapon. He said the committee wanted to recognize the work done by women not just in Africa but around the world to create peace and democracy and send an important signal to men, not least in emerging democracies in the Arab world:
“If women aren’t included in democracy there will be no democracy,” Jagland said. “Without involving women, peace won’t succeed.”
He insisted that the award was not made to improve the gender equality of the Nobel Peace Prize itself, which has been mostly won by men over the years. “We do not have a gender balance in this prize,” Jagland said, insisting that the prize “has to be in line with the will of Alfred Nobel” and must be awarded to those who the committee thinks have done the most for peace in the world during the past year.
“This year we believe it is important to focus on the rights of women,” Jagland said.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee grabbed even more global attention than normal both last year and in 2009 when it awarded the Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and to US President Barack Obama respectively. The prize to Liu infuriated Chinese authorities while the prize to Obama was highly controversial because he had been in office less than a year. Jagland defended both prizes on Friday, noting that Obama won for disarmament efforts in Europe in addition to the hope he’d instilled at the time, while Liu was recognized around the world for his struggle for human rights in China.
Asked how he thought this year’s prize would be received, Jagland said he didn’t think it would “be attacked by one certain country like last year’s prize” and that he thought most people and nations would embrace it.
He admitted that the committee had not managed to contact all the winners by the time the prize was announced in Oslo Friday morning. The Nobel Peace Prize will be formally awarded in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.
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