2011 – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (born 1938), President of Liberia, Leymah Gbowee (born 1972), Liberian social activist, and Tawakkul Karman (born 1979) Yemeni journalist. These three laureates were distinguished for their non-violent struggles for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf holds a Harvard degree in public administration. She spent more than a year in prison during the 1980-1990 dictatorship rule of General Samuel Doe.
Ms Sirleaf was Liberia’s finance minister, worked at the World Bank and served as Vice President of the African Regional Office of Citibank. She was the first woman to head the UN Development Program Regional Bureau for Africa. She resigned from this role in 1997 in order to run for president (which that year was ultimately won by Charles Taylor).
She was elected the first African female president in 2005, and secured a second term in office in 2011. In 2007 Ms Sirleaf was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by US President George W. Bush. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is often called the “African Iron Lady”.
Leymah Gbowee organised a movement of Christian and Muslim women that in 2003 brought to an end the civil war in Liberia. As a volunteer in the aid programme for victims of the first Liberian civil war (1989-1996) she worked with former child-soldiers of Charles Taylor’s army and was engaged in other peace-making activities. According to her own account, at that time she realised that “if any changes were to be made in society it had to be by the mothers”.
In 2002, Ms Gbowee became a spokesperson and leader for Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, an organisation for women across ethnic and religious divide lines. During months of peaceful protests, the women organised a series of actions to end the violence in the country, including a sex strike which attracted a significant media coverage. The activists were received by Taylor in April 2003, just months before the August peace treaty which ended the long civil war.
Gbowee supported Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and endorsed her candidacy during the successful re-election campaign in 2011, only to accuse the President of corruption and nepotism in the next year.
Tawakkul Karman, a key figure of the movement against Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, is considered the face of the country’s 2011 revolution and known to her compatriots as the “mother of the revolution”. She is the youngest Peace Prize Winner so far and the first Arab woman to win the award.
In 2005 she was among the founders of Women Journalists Without Chains, a human rights advocacy. Ms Karman is a member of the Yemen’s leading Islamic opposition party, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, the Islah, but went into conflict with the party’s ultra-conservative wing. In 2007 she orchestrated demonstrations in defence of the freedom of media and human rights.
In early 2011 she led protests against the long rule of Salah; together with her husband she set up and managed for several months a protest camp in the Yemeni city of Sana.