3 Women, 1 Prize: Priceless Courage

Joint Nobel peace prize winners Yemeni journalist and activist Tawakul Karman, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf hold hands after receiving their honors Saturday.

Liberian president and Catholic Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 72, Liberian “peace warrior” and graduate of Eastern Mennonite University Leymah Gbowee, 39, and Yemen’s Arab Spring activist Tawakkul Karman, 32, accepted their Nobel Peace Prize on Saturday. As all three women make clear in their acceptance speeches, they represent millions of women around the world who decide every morning that today is the day they will fight for justice, risk for peace, and defend human dignity. Thank you all …

Below are quotes from the wonderful Nobel lectures offered by these three.

From Tawakkul Karman’s lecture “In the Name of God the Most Compassionate and Merciful”:

What Martin Luther King called “the art of living in harmony” is the most important art we need to master today. In order to contribute to that human art, the Arab states should make reconciliation with their own people an essential requirement. This is not merely an internal interest, but also an international one required for the whole human community. The dictator who kills his own people doesn’t only represent a case of violation of his people’s values and their national security, but is also a case of violation of human values, its conventions and its international commitments. Such a case represents a real threat to world peace.

Many nations, including the Arab peoples, have suffered, although they were not at war, but were not at peace either. The peace in which they lived is a false “peace of graves”, the peace of submission to tyranny and corruption that impoverishes people and kills their hope for a better future. Today, all of the human community should stand with our people in their peaceful struggle for freedom, dignity and democracy, now that our people have decided to break out of silence and strive to live and realize the meaning of the immortal phrase of Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab, “Since when have you enslaved people, when their mothers had given birth to them as free ones.”

When I heard the news that I had got the Nobel Peace Prize, I was in my tent in the Taghyeer square in Sana’a. I was one of millions of revolutionary youth. There, we were not even able to secure our safety from the repression and oppression of the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh. At that moment, I contemplated the distinction between the meanings of peace celebrated by the Nobel Prize, and the tragedy of the aggression waged by Ali Abdullah Saleh against the forces of peaceful change. However, our joy of being on the right side of history made it easier for us to bear the devastating irony.

From “Ellen Sirleaf Johnson’s lecture “A Voice for Freedom!”:

I urge my sisters, and my brothers, not to be afraid. Be not afraid to denounce injustice, though you may be outnumbered. Be not afraid to seek peace, even if your voice may be small. Be not afraid to demand peace. If I might thus speak to girls and women everywhere, I would issue them this simple invitation: My sisters, my daughters, my friends, find your voices!

Each of us has her own voice, and the differences among us are to be celebrated. But our goals are in harmony. They are the pursuit of peace, the pursuit of justice. They are the defense of rights to which all people are entitled.

From Leymah Gbowee’s lecture:

Early 2003, seven of us women gathered in a makeshift office/conference room to discuss the Liberian civil war and the fast approaching war on the capital Monrovia. Armed with nothing but our conviction and $10 United States dollars, the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Campaign was born. Women had become the “toy of war” for over-drugged young militias. Sexual abuse and exploitation spared no woman; we were raped and abused regardless of our age, religious or social status. A common scene daily was a mother watching her young one being forcibly recruited or her daughter being taken away as the wife of another drug emboldened fighter. We used our pains, broken bodies and scarred emotions to confront the injustices and terror of our nation. We were aware that the end of the war will only come through non–violence, as we had all seen that the use of violence was taking us and our beloved country deeper into the abyss of pains, death, and destruction.

The situation in Liberia in those war years indeed re-affirmed the profound statement of Nobel Laureate, the late Dr. Martin Luther King when he said, “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem; it merely creates new and more complicated ones”. The women’s Mass Action Campaign started in one community and spread to over 50 communities across Liberia. We worked daily confronting warlords, meeting with dictators and refusing to be silenced in the face of AK 47 and RPGs. We walked when we had no transportation, we fasted when water was unaffordable, we held hands in the face of danger, we spoke truth to power when everyone else was being diplomatic, we stood under the rain and the sun with our children to tell the world the stories of the other side of the conflict. Our educational backgrounds, travel experiences, faiths, and social classes did not matter. We had a common agenda: Peace for Liberia Now.

We succeeded when no one thought we would, we were the conscience of the ones who had lost their consciences in their quest for power and political positions. We represented the soul of the nation. No one would have prepared my sisters and I for today — that our struggle would go down in the history of this world. Rather when confronting warlords we did so because we felt it was our moral duty to stand as mothers and gird our waist, to fight the demons of war in order to protect the lives of our children, their land, and their future.

There are many examples globally of such struggles by women. I believe that the prize this year not only recognizes our struggle in Liberia and Yemen. It is in recognition and honor of the struggles of grass roots women in Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia, in Palestine and Israel, and in every troubled corner of the world. So allow me to pay tribute to some of the giants in women’s continued struggle to be free and equal. This prize is a tribute to:
*Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), for their courage in the face of arrest and torture, for remaining the voice and face of the suffering people of Zimbabwe;
*The Women of Congo, who have endured some of the worst acts of men’s inhumanity to women. The World is well aware that the you still endure the horrific sexual violence that is the nature of the endless and senseless war in DRC;
*Women of Acholi Land in Uganda who in the face of the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army’s continued torture and rape remain advocates for peace and justice;
*Women of Afghanistan and many other places on earth where in the 21st Century women can be raped and still go to jail or sometimes be subjected to honor killing — this prize is a tribute to your cry for justice, freedom, and equality.

For more, read Swanee Hunt’s excellent reflection from Oslo in The Daily Beast.

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