11 December 2011

Nobel Peace Prize goes to women catalysts for peace

Liberia's president, a Liberian and a Yemeni activist will receive the Nobel Peace Prize Saturday for demonstrating how women facing war and oppression can shed the mantle of victimhood and lead the way to peace and democracy.

"The period that women appeared as victims has ended. ... Now women they are leaders. They are leaders not only of their country or leaders in their struggle, but leaders in the world," Yemeni "Arab Spring" activist Tawakkol Karman told a news conference in Oslo on the eve of the prize ceremony, which kicks off at 1:00 pm (1200 GMT) in Oslo's city hall.

Karman, who at 32 is the youngest winner of the prize in its 110-year history and the first Arab woman ever to win a Nobel, will receive her award alongside Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian "peace warrior" Leymah Gbowee.

Tawakkol Karman

The three will each receive a gold medal, a diploma and a third of the 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.48 million, 1.08 million euros) prize money in recognition of "their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work", Norwegian Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland said when announcing the prize on October 7.

Gbowee and Sirleaf also hailed the growing empowerment of women in the world at Friday's news conference.

"My selection and the selection of my mother Sirleaf and my sister Tawakkol is a reflection and an affirmation that finally the women of Africa, the women of the world, their roles in peace processes has been acknowledged," said Gbowee, a 39-year-old social worker who led Liberia's women to defy feared warlords and bring an end to the country's bloody 1989-2003 civil war.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Sirleaf meanwhile said she had women to thank for her rise to become Africa's first democratically elected woman president in 2005, only two years after the end of the war that cost 250,000 lives and left civil society in tatters from the systematic use of child soldiers, rape and mutilations.

"I am here in this position because of women ... who decided it was time for a woman to be in charge," said the 73-year-old Liberian president, who last month won a second term.

Her re-election bid was however marred by pre-election violence, an opposition boycott of the polls over fraud allegations and low voter participation.

In a bid to mend Liberia's wounds, Sirleaf recently said a peace and reconciliation initiative would be headed by Gbowee, who is among other things known for her efforts to bring Christian and Muslim women together, inspiring them to wage a sex strike in 2002 and refuse to sleep with their husbands until the violence ended.

Karman too has faced what for many would seem insurmountable odds.

The journalist and mother of three has become a leading representatives of the "Arab Spring" uprisings that have swept through the Middle East with demands of democracy, uprooting autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and rattling those in Yemen and Syria.

She spent months camped out at Yemen's Change Square -- the heart of the Sanaa uprising -- demanding that President Ali Abdullah Saleh release his 33-year hold on power.

Under mounting pressure from the streets, the veteran leader signed a Gulf-brokered power transfer deal last month, agreeing in principle to step down next February in return for immunity from prosecution.
"I don't prefer to say it is just an Arab Spring," Karman said Friday, insisting the winds of democracy were spreading.
"It is a world spring. The face of dictatorship in the world (will) end."

At a separate ceremony in Stockholm, the winners of the Nobel Prizes for Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Literature and Economics will also receive their prizes.

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