07 October 2011

Congrats to Tawakul Karman and friends

I was a little surprised at the Nobel Peace Prize awards for 2011. I had felt sure the winners would include a leader from Egypt's Arab Spring revolt, the Arab Spring being the major peaceful achievement of the year and Egypt being the most prominent example of it. Nonetheless, the winners are all sound choices—all women, chosen "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

The award to Yemeni journalist and pro-democracy activist Tawakul Karman was of particular importance for more than playing "a leading part in the struggle for women's rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen." It was important also because she is a devout Muslim and a member of an Islamist party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. She demonstrates that Islamist parties are not immune to women's rights and democracy. Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel committee, disagrees that such groups are necessarily a threat to democracy, saying, "There are many signals that that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution."

Karman may have been chosen over participants in the Egyptian revolt because she has been involved in the struggle long before the Arab Spring. In 2005, for example, she founded Women Journalists Without Chains, focusing on the right to a free press.

Her award sisters, too, are highly deserving. Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman elected head of state in Africa, was chosen for contributing "to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women." She has been a tireless fighter of corruption and has made education compulsory and free for all primary-age children.

The third winner, fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee, helped bring peace to her county in the early 2000s. According to the Nobel committee, she "mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women's participation in elections." She is now executive director of the Women in Peace and Security Network, an organization that works with women in other West African countries to promote peace, literacy and political involvement.

Worthy winners all. Congratulations, ladies.

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