The Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 was awarded on Friday to three campaigning women from Africa and the Arab world in acknowledgment of their nonviolent role in promoting peace, democracy and gender equality. The winners were Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — Africa’s first elected female president — her compatriot, peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman of Yemen, a pro-democracy campaigner, The New York Times reports.
They were the first women to win the prize since Kenya’s Wangari Maathai, who died last month, was named as the laureate in 2004. Most of the recipients in the award’s 110-year history have been men, and the award seemed designed to give impetus to the cause for women’s rights around the world.
“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,” said the citation read to reporters by Thorbjorn Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister who heads the Oslo-based Nobel committee that chooses the winner of the $1.5 million prize.
In a subsequent interview, he described the prize as “a very important signal to women all over the world.”
The announcement in the Norwegian capital, followed intense speculation that the prize would be awarded variously to a figure from the Arab Spring revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, the European Union or exclusively to Sirleaf, 72, a Harvard-trained economist, who is contesting elections set for next Tuesday in Liberia.
Jagland said the committee had not made its decision because of the Liberian election, calling the ballot there a “domestic consideration.”
More than 250 people were nominated for the prize this year and there had been speculation that it would reward bloggers or other activists from the Middle East using social networking sites and other Internet platforms as they challenged entrenched dictatorships, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt.
But if the committee had singled out the Arab Spring, it could have courted criticism that, far from rewarding efforts toward peace, it had chosen a phenomenon whose final outcome in Egypt and Tunisia is far from clear, and which has provoked bloodletting and strife in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
Jagland said the 2011 prize recognized those “who were there long before the world’s media was there reporting.”
Photo left: Leymah Gbowee in September (Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times)
Photo center: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian president, in June (Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)
Photo right: Tawakul Karman in Sana, Yemen, on Wednesday (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)