Yemeni Woman Wins 2011 Nobel Peace Prize

In 2011, three women shared that year’s Nobel Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” The first Arab woman and the youngest Nobel Laureate ever, Yemen’s Tawakkul Karman was recognized for her prominent leadership in the peaceful movement to dismantle the dictatorship of President Saleh.

Tawakkul Karman, known as “the iron woman” and the “mother of the revolution” to many Yemenis is a journalist and human rights activist.  After co-founding in 2005, “Women Journalists without Chains”, an organization that defends human rights and freedom of expression, including the freedom to protest, Kamran has became a vocal champion of human rights as well as the right of free speech and civic participation. She works often to get other protesters released from jail, a place knows well, having spent time there repeatedly herself. Tawakkul is particularly protective of Yemen’s youth, pronouncing loudly as she heads demonstrations against a government she says has robbed her generation of not only its future, but of its honor and their dignity as well.

Karman began protesting publicly each Tuesday against Salah’s corrupt leadership in 2007; witnessing the fall of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt during the Arab Spring, revitalized her and the protest movement’s momentum.  Ms. Karman emerged as a figurehead among youth activists in Yemen who began camping out at Change Square in central Sana’a in early February, demanding the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade rule. “Every tyrant and dictator is upset by this prize because it confronts injustice,” she told The Associated Press from her tent as she received congratulations from other activists. The 32-year-old mother of three may seem an unlikely leader of the fight to overthrow the president, but Karman has long been a thorn in Saleh’s side but seems to find motivation in the challenges she’s faced as the leader of a revolution.  In 2010, she made this comment to the Yemen Times, the country’s English Newspaper:

Women should stop being or feeling that they are part of the problem and become part of the solution. We have been marginalized for a long time, and now is the time for women to stand up and become active without needing to ask for permission or acceptance. This is the only way we will give back to our society and allow for Yemen to reach the great potentials it has.

Nearly 4 years have passed since Ms. Karman received the award. She remains active in journalism, activism and politics, where she is a senior member of the opposition political party, Al-Islah, and serves on their Shura Council. Al-Islah has been aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood, which caused some controversy, but Karman has openly distanced herself from their conservative ideology more than once. She has fought against early marriage for girls, for instance, and has voiced other bold positions on gender inequity in Yemen. Since earning the award, Tawakkul has been a global human rights advocate, meeting with multiple state leaders and international organizations to further promote democratization. Tawakkol continues to support female journalists and rally Yemenis against government corruption and injustice.  Tawakkol spends the majority of her time in a tent in Change Square, where she continues her peaceful protests for justice and freedom.

Tawakkul Karman shared the 2011 peace prize with two Liberian women. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won Liberia’s first postwar election in 2005 by a landslide vote. On Friday, she received a Nobel prize for her efforts to restore peace to Liberia after a brutal 14-year civil war that ended in 2003. Sirleaf also shared the prize with Liberian peace activist, Lyemah Gbowee who, led women to defy feared warlords and pushed men towards peace during one of Africa’s bloodiest wars. Leymah Gbowee, born in central Liberia, started protests on a football field in Monrovia where she prayed and fasted for peace during the war. Now, Gbowee is executive director of the Women in Peace and Security Network, where she works with many women to promote peace and political involvement.

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