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.

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Empower Women, Empower Nations

041133aswaneehuntAmbassador Swanee Hunt has a great post on the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security held in Monrovia, Liberia, last weekend in honor of International Women’s Day.

I’ve admired Swanee Hunt since I met her in Sarajevo during the war years and saw the work she was doing with Bosnian women war-survivors. I interviewed her for Sojourners in 2004 about the Women Waging Peace project she founded and her book This Was Not Our War.

Here’s an excerpt from her blog post A Historic Gathering in Monrovia:

I thought the most powerful speaker was Governor-General Michaelle Jean of Canada, representing Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. Haitian by birth, she spoke eloquently of what she has learned “from the incredibly courageous women of Liberia … Female leaders who see every ordeal as an opportunity … who measure their success by what they give, rather than what they take. You exclude women, you fail. You empower women, you empower a nation. Women never forget that life is our most precious asset.”

To read the Democracy Now! interview with world-renowned human rights lawyer and advocate and former president of Ireland Mary Robinson on her perspective from the Monrovia women’s meeting, go here.