Women’s Rights Activists Win Nobel Peace Prize

On this week’s SGU (out Saturday), we talk about the scientific Nobel prizes given out this year and I may have said that I find it all to be overrated. Like the Grammys! However, this year they gave a Grammy to Arcade Fire, and I was forced to admit that it made me a little bit happy. In the same vein, the Nobel Peace Prize has just been given to three women who are working to improve the lives of millions of women in developing countries, and it makes me damn near ecstatic.

The joint winners are Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, an activist focused on enhancing the political power of West African women; and Tawakul Karman, a women’s rights activist and revolutionary in Yemen.

There was definitely some talk leading up to the announcement that the prize would go to someone involved in the Arab spring uprisings, but I didn’t see Karman’s name mentioned anywhere . . . only various men, including Mark Zuckerberg (blargggg). According to this Guardian live blog, a journalist asked the Nobel announcer why they chose Karman:

Contrasting Karman’s work to that of bloggers, he said she “showed courage long before the revolution started”.

He said it was “a signal to the whole Arab world that one cannot set aside the women if one wants to build democracies”.

That’s great news, seeing how even though many women participated in the various uprisings, their needs were often forgotten when it came time to establish new leadership.

As for Gbowee, here’s a great interview with her talking about organizing the women of Liberia:

“In five days we registered 7,455 first-time voters, we got Africa’s first elected female president [Sirleaf], and now we have a whole population of women that will not shut up.” How is it possible to be that awesome?

Here’s Time Magazine’s 10 questions for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf:

Her advice to mothers (that’s how the question was phrased, but let’s say it’s for all parents) raising strong, independent daughters:

Tell women everywhere to be able to compete. Compete, take leadership roles, try to strive to be the best you can and stand out in the crowd.

We need more people in the public eye spreading that message.

Congrats to all the winners! Here’s the full citation from the committee:

The Norwegian Nobel committee has decided that the Nobel peace prize for 2011 is to be divided in three equal parts between Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for womens rights to full participation in peace-building work. 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.

In October 2000, the UN security council adopted Resolution 1325. The resolution for the first time made violence against women in armed conflict an international security issue. It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first democratically elected female president. Since her inauguration in 2006, she has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women. Leymah Gbowee mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections. She has since worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war.

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.

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.

Photo of Tawakul Karman via Khaled Abdullah/Reuters.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. So why is everything from the second paragraph in the quote down crossed out?

    Anyway, i’ve always thought the Nobel Peace Prize was overrated. I find it the most political of all the prizes (not always, but sometimes). That doesn’t mean that the efforts of the people who won are not admirable.

  2. These women are awesome! I too find the peace prize to be a bit overrated, but if it’s recognizing the work of individuals like these ones, then it must be doing something right.

  3. I humbly disagree with those who say that the Nobel Prizes are overrated. For one thing, it is an award that recognizes people for their intellectual contribution to humanity. It encourages peaceful, beneficial activities. Furthermore, it gets worldwide press. Worldwide press coverage for an intellectual contribution. I feel we need more of this.

  4. I agree with Starfury–there is so much publicity for beauty pageants and Star recogonition. Its nice to have publicized prizes that acknowledge qualities and achievements of people for other reasons.

    Also–I love the irony and history of how Nobel Prizes were created!

    The story goes: Nobel (inventor of dynamite and an ammunitions company owner) read an erroneaous account of his own death. Apparently, his brother died in France and an obituary was published criticizing Nobel for having promoted death and war. Nobel, not wanting to be known for dynamite, death and war, decided to give his entire fortune to promote peace and science and literature through loans and prizes.

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