Three women share this year’s Nobel Peace Prize: Liberians Leymah Gbowee and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemeni activist Tawwakol Karman. In its 101 year history, the prize has been awarded to only 15 women, most recently in 2004 to Kenyan environmentalist and activist Wangari Maathai, who died last month.
The Oslo-based committee described the award as an important siren call for women the world over. In its citation, read by its head, Thorbjorn Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister, the committee said that “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.”
Both Sirleaf and Gbowee played roles in ending the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. In 2005, Sirleaf—the first and only democratically elected female president in Africa—created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a government organization mandated to investigate human rights violations committed during the war. Although, as the New York Times reports, she faces a tough re-election challenge tomorrow from a much younger male opponent who’s using both her age (72) and her gender as a wedge issues.
Karman said on Friday that the award was a victory for Yemen’s democracy activists and that they would not give up until they had won full rights in a “democratic, modern Yemen.” When asked why Karman received the award over other activists from the Arab Spring uprisings, Thorbjorn Jagland said that Karman’s “courage was long before the world media was there and reporting.” As the often violent struggle against the autocratic regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh is still far from over, the attention that goes with the Prize was also likely intended to provide some measure of protection to Karman and keep the media spotlight on Yemen.