News / Africa

2011 Nobel Prize Highlights Women's Role in Peacemaking

Nobel Peace Prize winners Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, left, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, center, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, right, take the stage at City Hall in in Oslo, Norway, December 10, 2011.
Nobel Peace Prize winners Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, left, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, center, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, right, take the stage at City Hall in in Oslo, Norway, December 10, 2011.
Alex Villarreal

Africa's first elected female head of state, a Liberian peace activist, and a human rights activist from Yemen are the three female winners of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.  When they received the award Saturday in Oslo, Norway, they joined a special group.

A total of 15 women have received the Nobel Peace Prize since it was first awarded in 1901.

The first was Austrian writer and peace activist Bertha von Suttner in 1905.

This year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee split the $1.5 million prize among three women.

African Peace Prize Winners:

  • 2011 - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, Liberia, "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work."
  • 2004 - Wangari Muta Maathai, Kenya, "for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace."
  • 2001 - The United Nations and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Ghana, "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world."
  • 1993 - Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk, South Africa, "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa."
  • 1984 - Desmond Mpilo Tutu, South Africa, "to direct attention to the non-violent struggle for liberation to which Desmond Tutu belongs, a struggle in which black and white South Africans unite to bring their country out of conflict and crisis."
  • 1960 - Albert John Lutuli, South Africa, for leading "10 million black Africans in their nonviolent campaign for civil rights."

President Sirleaf became Liberia's first elected female president in 2006.  Fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee is an activist recognized for uniting women against the country's warlords.  And Tawakkol Karman is a Yemeni journalist and the first Arab woman to receive the prize.

In Oslo for the award ceremony, President Sirleaf called the prize a "wonderful recognition" of the inequalities women have suffered.

"I feel honored to represent them, their own aspirations and expectations for a better world, to be able to recognize the inequities that they have faced in the lack of access to those basic things that allow the comfort of life," said Sirleaf.

The 2011 recipients join an elite group of women winners.

Among them is the late Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun who won in 1979 for her humanitarian work.

1991's recipient was Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi won in 2003.

The most recent woman to receive the prize was Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai in 2004.  Maathai died in September after a long battle with cancer.

Norwegian Nobel panel chairman Thorbjoern Jagland says women are critical to peace.

"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 Jagland.

Women have also won Nobel Prizes in the sciences and literature, with one woman, radiation researcher Marie Curie, honored twice, first in physics and years later in chemistry.

Female Nobel Peace Prize Winners 1905-2011:

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