Thato Masire, a Peace Scholar from Luther College, wrote the following reflection on the three dynamic women who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” I believe the recipients, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman, and Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, are truly deserving of the prize. All three of them took on positions of leadership, and their contributions have positively impacted their communities. A defining characteristic of their leadership is commitment and courage.
Leymah Gbowee brought together women from across Liberia’s ethnic and religious divide to put pressure on the then President Charles Taylor to end the protracted and atrocious civil war. Gbowee also played a pivotal role in the ousting of President Charles Taylor, who is currently on trial at The Hague for his role in the civil war. Furthermore, Gbowee championed the participation of women in elections. Deeply disturbed by post-war trauma, Gbowee trained as a counselor to work with women and girls who were raped during the war. Even after the war has ended, she remains committed to peace. She just finished writing a book, and she has produced a documentary. She was a speaker at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Forum.
Like Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman is bold and has demonstrated unstoppable initiative. In acknowledgement of her commitment to get reforms and regime change, the Nobel committee commended her for continuing her work in “the most trying circumstances, both before and during the Arab Spring” and for playing “a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen Revolutions.” Karman is a journalist by training. She founded Women Journalists Without Chains in 2005, which has been advocating for human rights and freedom of expression for the last five years. The politically active Karman, has run a crusade that calls for the minimum marriage age in Yemen to be raised. After being arrested several times and attacked on a public platform, she remained committed to the task at hand.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been nicknamed the “Iron Lady” in Liberia, which comes from her iron will and determination. Like the other two recipients, Sirleaf is very bold and speaks her mind, even if there are risks to it. She was imprisoned in the 1980s for criticizing the military regime of Samuel Doe. She is the first and currently only elected female African president. Assuming office after a 14-year war, Sirleaf is maintaining peace in Liberia. Her motivation for the presidency was to bring a motherly touch to the institution as a way of healing the “wounds of war.” She has appointed women in strategic positions in government and has increased the status of women in a male-dominated country and continent.
Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman, and Ellen Sirleaf Johnson have all contradicted the famous statement by Mao Zedong: “All power comes from the barrel of a gun.” It seems in this increasingly globalized world, power comes from the people, and if more women could follow the example of the 2011 Nobel Laureates, perhaps this power could be used for good, spearheaded by similarly remarkable women acting as agents for change.
I revere these women for their commitment, courage, and leadership.