The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for their work in the promotion of women's rights.
Sirleaf is Liberia's first female president
Praise has begun pouring in from the international community in reaction to the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen for their work on women's rights.
Angela Merkel called it a "wise decision" to give the award to the three peace activists who, in the words of the German chancellor, embody the "global struggle for a more peaceful and better world."
The Oslo-based Nobel Committee honored the three women "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."
Sirleaf, 72, is a Harvard-trained economist who became Africa's first democratically elected female president in 2005. She declared corruption a public enemy and implemented institutional reform with a determination that saw her thrown into jail twice by military dictator Samuel Doe in the 1980s.
"This is a prize for all Liberian people," Sirleaf said in an address to the country. "It is the result of my years of fighting for peace in this country. This prize is shared with Leymah who is another Liberian. It is also a prize for all Liberian women."
Sirleaf's efforts at reform and peace since taking office have won her international acclam. At home, however, her opponents have accused her of vote-rigging and using government funds to campaign, charges she rejects.
Sirleaf's main election rival criticized both the choice of winner and the award's timing
Sirleaf received the award ahead of a presidential election in Liberia on Tuesday.
"Madam Sirleaf does not deserve a Nobel Peace Prize award because she has committed violence in this country," Sirleaf's election rival Winston Tubman told AFP. "The timing of this award is provocative. No Nobel prize can make any difference for this president, that is why people will vote to get her out of power. This prize will have no bearing on ordinary Liberians."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the award was wonderful news, and that the three recipients could not have been better chosen.
"Above all, it underscores the vital role that women play in the advancement of peace and security, development and human rights," Ban said.
EU leaders described the choice of winners as "a victory for a new democratic Africa and a new democratic Arab World." In a joint statement, EU President Herman van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that Sirleaf, Gbowee and Karman "have been an inspiration to all those who defend women's active participation in social and political life and in peace building."
Amnesty International, like many other rights groups and world leaders, also concluded that that award would "encourage women everywhere to continue fighting for their rights."
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu offered arguably the most enthusiastic response on hearing the news about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
"The president of Liberia? Woo-hoo!" Tutu said after leaving a church service celebrating his 80th birthday. "She deserves it many times over. She's brought stability to a place that was going to hell."
Emboldening Liberian women
Liberia was ravaged by civil wars for years until 2003. The country is still struggling to maintain a fragile peace with the help of UN peacekeepers.
Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, 39, organized a group of Christian and Muslim women to challenge Liberia's warlords.
Gbowee heads a group that challenges Liberian warlords
In 2003, under Gbowee's leadership, the group managed to force a meeting with then President Charles Taylor, which led him to promise he would attend peace talks in Ghana aimed at repairing the war-raged Liberian state.
As it became clear the "Accra" talks were going nowhere, and on a day a bomb exploded at the American embassy compound in the capital Monrovia, Gbowee threatened to strip naked in public, seen as a powerful curse in West Africa.
The dramatic move forced the men back into negotiations and, two weeks later, the terms of the Accra peace treaty were announced, paving the way for reconciliation.
As part of additional efforts to raise awareness of women's rights in Liberia, Gbowee launched a "sex strike" in 2002, which banded together the country's Christian and Muslim women to refuse sex with their husbands.
Protests in Yemen
Tawakul Karman, 32, is an activist for press freedom and women's rights in Yemen. She founded Women Journalists without Chains, a human rights group for journalists. She is one of a handful of women who struggle for freedom, particularly for women's rights, in a male-dominated conservative society.
Karman played a role in organizing protests in Yemen
Karman had been a leading figure in organizing the protests in Yemen that opposed the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, which kicked off in late January.
Karman's father is a former legal affairs minister under Saleh. She is a journalist, mother of three, and member of the Islah party, an Islamic party.
"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," the committee said in reference to Karman's achievements in the pursuit of peace.
In response to the news, Karman said on Friday the award was a "victory for Yemen and all the Arab Spring revolutions" and a message that "the era of Arab dictatorships was over."
Author: Gabriel Borrud, Mark Hallam (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson