Nobel Peace Prize honours African, Arab women

OSLO, (Reuters) – Declaring women’s rights vital for  world peace, the Nobel Committee awarded its annual Peace Prize  today to three indomitable campaigners against war and  oppression — a Yemeni and two Liberians, including that  country’s president.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first freely elected female  head of state, shared the $1.5 million with compatriot Leymah  Gbowee, who led a “sex strike” among her efforts against  Liberia’s civil war, and Arab activist Tawakul Karman, who  hailed the award as a victory for democracy in Yemen.
“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,” Norwegian Nobel  Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland told reporters.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Johnson-Sirleaf, 72 and once dubbed the “Iron Lady” by  opponents, is running for a second term in an election on  Tuesday where she faces criticism for not having done enough to  heal the divisions of years of civil war. Jagland dismissed  suggestions the award might seem to be meddling in the vote.
But the former Norwegian prime minister said that honouring  Yemen’s protesters, who unlike those in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya  are still battling to get rid of their ruler, sent a signal from  Oslo that President Ali Abdullah Saleh, long a U.S. ally, and  other Arab autocrats should now step down.
It is a message that the era of Arab dictators was over,  Karman told Reuters in Sanaa, declaring her prize a victory for  Yemen and for all of the uprisings of the Arab Spring.

Leymah  Gbowee
Leymah Gbowee

The trio of laureates follow only a dozen other women among  85 men, as well as a number of organisations, to have won the  prize over its 110-year history.
The Committee said it hoped the three-way award “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”.

ARAB SPRING HONOURED
Recognising Karman, a 32-year-old journalist and mother who  was detained for a time during the unrest, was seen as a gesture  of the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s wider approval for the Arab  Spring protest movements, which had been heavily tipped to win  the prize for their young street campaigners.
“In the most trying circumstances, both before and during  the Arab Spring, Tawakul Karman has played a leading part in the  struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in  Yemen,” the Nobel citation read.
Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz, who had been nominated,  said: “Giving it to Yemen means giving it to the Arab Spring,  and this is an honour to all of us and to all Arab states.”
The committee said all three women were rewarded from the  bequest left by Swedish dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel for  “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for  women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.

LIBERIAN CAMPAIGNS

Tawakul Karman
Tawakul Karman

It noted that Johnson-Sirleaf had led the way for women to  lead African states and that Gbowee, 39, had mobilised women  across ethnic and religious lines to bring an end to the war in  Liberia and ensure their participation in elections.
Her brother, Alphonso Diamond Gbowee, told Reuters: “I am so  excited that her relentlessness to ensure the development of  women and children in our region has been recognised.
“She’s very hard-working, helping with women and children  all over the place, especially in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra  Leone … This will be a challenge for her to do more. I have no  doubt she’ll continue to impact those vulnerable lives.”
Speaking by telephone from Monrovia, Johnson-Sirleaf’s son  James told Reuters: “I am over-excited. This is very big news  and we have to celebrate.”
Johnson-Sirleaf was Liberia’s finance minister, then  suffered jail and fled the country as it descended into one of  Africa’s bloodiest civil wars, serving as a World Bank economist  before going home and winning the presidency in 2005.
Gbowee’s Women For Peace movement is credited by some for  bringing an end to the civil war in 2003. The movement started  humbly in 2002 when Gbowee organised a group of women to sing  and pray for an end to fighting in a fish market.
She is the subject of an award-winning documentary film  “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”.
“Whatever they achieved today has been done along with all  Liberian women,” Liberia’s minister for gender and development  Vabah Gayflor told Reuters.
“It is something that all Liberian women will be proud of  … Women all over Africa and the world will be proud.”
The prize will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10.

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