Three Women's Rights Activists Win Peace Prize

Three women share the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel committee announced Friday: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman of Yemen. The committee honored their "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Guy Raz. The Nobel committee is celebrating women this year. Today, three women won the peace prize, sharing $1.5 million. Two of the winners are Liberian, Africa's first democratically-elected female president and a peace activist, and the third, a woman from Yemen, who has been a powerful voice in the Arab uprisings. NPR's Michele Kelemen tells us more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In announcing the prize, Nobel committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said that democracy and lasting peace can not be achieved unless women have the same chances as men to influence developments at all levels of society.

THORBJOERN JAGLAND: It is the Norwegian Nobel committee's hope that the prize to Ellen Sirleaf- Johnson, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries and to realize the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent.

KELEMEN: Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard graduate and former World Bank economist, was cited for her contributions to peace. She was the first woman to be elected head of state in Africa and spoke last year at the White House about the challenges she faced.

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PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON-SIRLEAF: In 2006 when our government started, we inherited a broken country, devastated by war, people displaced, infrastructure broken, institutions dysfunctional, but we said that we were going to make Liberia rise again.

KELEMEN: Today, another Nobel laureate, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said that Johnson-Sirleaf deserved the award many times over for bringing stability to a place that was, quote, "going to hell." But the Liberian president is in the midst of a re-election campaign, and one of her opponents said she doesn't deserve the recognition. She shares the prize with another Liberian, Leymah Gbowee, who the Nobel committee says organized women across ethnic and religious lines to bring an end to Liberia's long civil war. President Johnson-Sirleaf told reporters today that she and Gbowee accept the prize on behalf of all Liberians.

JOHNSON-SIRLEAF: We particularly give this credit to Liberian women who have consistently led the struggle for peace even under conditions of neglect.

KELEMEN: In Yemen today, the third winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Tawakul Karman, dedicated her award to the Arab revolutions.

TAWAKEL KARMAN: I am so happy for this prize, and I believe that this award is for all Yemeni people, all Yemeni youth, Yemeni women and also for the youth in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Syria, in Libya.

KELEMEN: The journalist, human rights advocate and mother of three has been camped out in Yemen's capital, in a place she calls Change Square. When an NPR correspondent caught up with her just a couple of months ago in her tent, Tawakul Karman talked about the regular death threats she receives and her determination to press ahead with her protests.

KARMAN: We have to step down this regime. We have to start our country from new, and then, we have, you know, to own our own country.

KELEMEN: The Nobel committee honored her in part to send a message to countries going through change in the Arab world: If they want to build democracies, they have to include women. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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