Saturday, October 8, 2011

122: The Self-Empowered Woman: Nobel Prize Winners

Dear Followers,

Instead of focusing on one amazing woman, today's blog will introduce you to the three women who received - on Friday - this year's Nobel Peace Prize . Their selection highlights not only the "Arab Spring" movement, but the increased power and influence women are experiencing globally. President Obama said that the winners pictured above are "a reminder that when we empower women around the world everyone is better off, that countries and cultures that respect the contributions of women invariably end up being more successful than those that don't."

The woman on the left is 39 year old Leymah Gbowee, who was born in Liberia and experienced the horrors of the First Liberian Civil War in which Charles Taylor's army used child soldiers. A mother of six, she realized that "If any changes were to be made in society it had to be by the mothers." So she organized the Christian and Muslim women to pray for peace and holds non-violent demonstrations. By 2003, the women's movement brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War and led to the election of the woman pictured on the far right, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman to become president of an African country. Gbowee is the central character in the 2008 documentary film "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" as well as the author of "Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War." Her group protested outside the presidential palace by sending politicians this statement of intent "In the past we were silent, but after being killed, raped, dehumanized, and infected with diseases, and watching our children and families destroyed, war has taught us that the future lies in saying NO to violence and YES to peace! We will not relent until peace prevails." She earned an Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. When told of her award she said "Three women receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is really overwhelming...It's finally a recognition that we can't ignore the other half of the world's population."

The second picture is of 32 year old Tawakkul Karman, who is a mother off three and has played a pivotal role in Yemen's political upheaval. To many, she is known as "Mother of the Revolution" and in 2005, she founded an advocacy group called Women Journalists Without Chains. Two years later, she began staging sit ins in front of Yemen's Parliament, and in January she took to the streets with several dozen protesters calling for Mister Saleh's resignation. She has been arrested, received death threats, been called a traitor, and criticized for the fact that three years ago she stopped wearing the full facial veil. She has been inspired to fight for marginalized groups by Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. She called her prize "A victory for the entire Yemeni Revolution" and she hopes that it would bring additional international support. The head of the Nobel Prize committee, Thorbjorn Jagland said that the committee "included the Arab Spring in this prize, but...if one fails to include the women in the new democracies, there will be no democracy."

The last photo is of Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who at age 72 is the mother of four sons and has eight grandchildren. Although she has transformed her country, she is facing a difficult bid for re-election. About 250,000 people were killed during the country's civil wars back when Liberia - Africa's first independent republic - was called "a poster child for Africa's ills." Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf, who was the first woman elected as an African head of state, managed to bring peace to the country. She holds degrees from: the University of Colorado, Boulder; the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Harvard. She also served as assistant United Nations secretary-general, and as a vice-president at Citibank. When she was inaugurated as her country's president, both Condoleezza Rice and first lady Laura Bush attended. The Liberian election is scheduled for this Tuesday, and her opponent is a popular soccer star. While admirers refer to her as the "Iron Lady" her political opponents have used the phrase "Too Old To Hold." After learning of her award she said "We are now going into our ninth year of peace, and every Liberian has contributed to it. We particularly give this credit to Liberian women, who have consistently led the struggle for peace even under conditions of neglect."

Looking forward to your comments...

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