Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman chants slogans along with anti-government protestors, during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in Sanaa, Yemen, in June. (Credit: AP/Hani Mohammed) Africa’s first democratically elected female president, a Liberian campaigner against rape and a woman who stood up to Yemen’s autocratic regime won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in recognition of the importance of women’s rights in the spread of global peace.
The 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award was split three ways between Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, women’s rights activist Leymah Gbowee from the same African country and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen — the first Arab woman to win the prize.
The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee told The Associated Press that Karman’s award should be seen as a signal that both women and Islam have important roles to play in the uprisings known as the Arab Spring, the wave of anti-authoritarian revolts that have challenged rulers across the Arab world.
“The Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it,” Jagland said.
He said Karman, 32, belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.” He added that “I don’t believe that. There are many signals that that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.”
Yemen is an extremely conservative society but a feature of the revolt there has been a prominent role for women who turned out for protests in large numbers. The uprising has, however, been one of the least successful, failing to unseat President Ali Abdullah Saleh as the country descends into failed state status and armed groups take increasingly central roles. In Libya’s and Syria’s uprisings, women have been largely absent. And while there were many women protesters in Egypt’s revolution, few had key leadership positions.
Karman is a mother of three who heads the human rights group Women Journalists without Chains. She has been a leading figure in organizing the protests against Saleh that kicked off in late January.
“I am very very happy about this prize,” Karman told The Associated Press. “I give the prize to the youth of revolution in Yemen and the Yemeni people.”
Citing the Arab Spring alone could have been problematic for the committee. Libya descended into civil war that led to NATO military intervention. Egypt and Tunisia are still in turmoil. Hardliners are holding onto power in Yemen and Syria and a Saudi-led force crushed the uprising in Bahrain, leaving an uncertain record for the Arab protest movement.