Nobel Peace Prize Goes to Trio of Liberian, Yemeni Women

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni women’s rights advocate Tawakkul Karman.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee made the announcement Friday in Oslo, saying the three women will split the coveted award for “their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights.”

Committee Chairman Thorbjoern Jagland praised the work of the three recipients, saying that “we cannot achieve lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 72, became Africa’s first democratically elected female president in 2005. The Nobel Committee praised the Liberian leader for her efforts to secure peace, promote economic and social development and strengthen the position of women.

In an exclusive VOA interview with James Butty, Sirleaf said she is humbled by the award.  She said it is an award for all the Liberian people, given what they’ve gone through - 13 years of civil war, the peace process, and democratic elections.

The Liberian leader, in a close re-election campaign leading up to Tuesday’s voting, said the Nobel is recognition of “many years of struggle for justice, peace and promotion of development” in her country.  She said “credit goes to the Liberian people.”

Thirty-nine year-old Leymah Gbowee, also from Liberia, helped to end her country’s civil war by encouraging Christian and Muslim women to participate in a series of sit-ins and non-violent demonstrations. In 2002, Gbowee mobilized Liberian women to participate in a “sex strike” until the violence ended. 

She said the award is “a Nobel for African women," adding that there is "no way that anyone can minimize our role anymore."

Meanwhile, 32-year-old activist and journalist Tawakkul Karman was praised for playing a “leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace” in Yemen. A leading “Arab Spring” activist in her country, Karman told reporters after winning the prize that she dedicated it to the “youth of the revolution in Yemen,” saying it was a victory in her country’s uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh

The committee said it hopes the prize will help bring an end to the “suppression of women that still occurs in many countries.”

The three women will share an award of nearly $1.5 million, which they will receive at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10.

Last year, the Nobel committee awarded the peace prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident writer and activist Liu Xiaobo, angering the Chinese government. Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence for what China says is “subverting state power.”

Past winners include U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009, former Vice President Al Gore in 2007 and former President Jimmy Carter in 2002.  The 2001 prize was split between the United Nations and then Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The prize was created by Swedish scientist and industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.