Catalysts for peace: three women receive Nobel Prize
Posted Saturday, December 10 2011 at 20:53
Liberia's president, a compatriot and a Yemeni activist received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo Saturday for showing how women facing war and oppression can shed the mantle of victimhood and lead the way to peace and democracy.
"You represent one of the most important motive forces for change in today's world: the struggle for human rights in general and the struggle of women for equality and peace in particular," Norwegian Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland said before handing out the prestigious award.
At the lavish ceremony in Oslo's city hall, and with Norway's royal family and other dignitaries in attendance, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, fellow Liberian and "peace warrior" Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni "Arab Spring" activist Tawakkol Karman received their gold medals and diplomas.
As Syrian security forces killed more civilians Saturday, the Nobel Committee chief said the laureates' work should serve as a warning to autocratic leaders such as those in Syria and Yemen.
"The leaders in Yemen and Syria who murder their people to retain their own power should take note of the following: mankind's quest for freedom and human rights can never stop," Jagland said.
Karman, who at 32 is the youngest person to win the Peace Prize and the first Arab woman to receive a Nobel in any category, voiced unwavering optimism that the "Arab Spring" uprisings would succeed using peaceful means.
"People can attain all their goals ... by peace. You can't take down a dictatorship without peace," she told AFP in an interview after the prize ceremony, adding: "If they start with violence, they will end with violence."
The journalist and mother of three, wearing a white headscarf with a lilac and green pattern, was instrumental in helping push 33-year-ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh to agree to step down early next year.
In her acceptance speech, she expressed frustration however with the lack of Western support for the Yemen uprising, something she insisted "should haunt the world's conscience," according to a translation of her remarks given in Arabic.
She especially lamented the lack of efforts to prosecute Saleh, who only agreed to leave once promised immunity, or to prosecute those responsible for the hundreds who have died in the Yemen rebellion.
"There should be no immunity for killers who rob the food of the people."
Jagland meanwhile stressed the importance of women in the uprisings.
"The promising Arab Spring will become a new winter if women are again left out," he cautioned.
Meanwhile, Gbowee, a 39-year-old social worker who led Liberia's women to defy feared warlords and bring an end to her country's bloody 1989-2003 civil war, hailed the Nobel Committee for shining the spotlight on women's struggle for peace and human rights, insisting "this prize could not have come at a better time than this."
"It has come at a time when in many societies where women used to be the silent victims and objects of men's powers, women are throwing down the walls of repressive traditions with the invincible power of non-violence," Gbowee, wearing a colourful headdress, said in her acceptance speech.
"Women are using their broken bodies from hunger, poverty, desperation and destitution to stare down the barrel of the gun," she said, noting that "ordinary mothers are no longer begging for peace, but demanding peace, justice, equality and inclusion in political decision-making."
Gbowee, a mother of six who inspired Christian and Muslim women alike to wage a sex strike in 2002 and refuse to sleep with their husbands until the violence ended, pointed out that "we succeeded when no one thought we would, we were the conscience of the ones who had lost their consciences."
Sirleaf, Africa's first democratically elected woman president, who last month won a second term, also hailed the Nobel Committee's focus on women's struggles after the world in recent decades has witnessed "unprecedented levels of cruelty directed against women" in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and her own Liberia.