Three women win the world’s top prize for peace

One of this year's best-kept secrets came out this weekend – the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. There were two surprises: not only were there three winners; they were all women.

For the last six months Tawakkol Karman has lived in a blue tent in a protest camp in Yemen. On Friday, reporters described how 'her eyes grew wide' as the 32-year-old mother of three with a red flowered veil around her head learned she was sharing the $1.5m Nobel Peace Prize with two other women.

'This is a victory for Arabs around the world,' she said, 'and a victory for Arab women.'

The annual Nobel Peace Prize is one of the greatest honours in the world. Previous winners include Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. So on Friday, as the judges in Norway prepared to announce the 2011 winner, there was intense speculation about who it might be.

The whisper went round that the prize would go to Facebook or Twitter for their part in this year's democratic uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

Others were convinced it would go to Bradley Manning, the American soldier who allegedly leaked 250,000 classified documents to the Wikileaks website which laid bare the inner secrets of US diplomacy. Others said it would be Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.

'Obvious' said the chairman of the judging committee, Thorbjoern Jagland, when asked who it would be. Many people thought he was talking about U2's Bono, for his campaigns for the poor and starving in Africa.

So everyone was surprised by the announcement later that day: the prize was to be shared between three women.

All three women were from Africa and the Arab world – recognised for their role in promoting peace, democracy and gender equality. The oldest was President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, 72, the first woman to be elected president in modern Africa. The second was another Liberian Leymah Gbowee, 39, who runs the Women for Peace movement which helps unite Christian and Muslim women against Liberia's warlords.
And then there was Tawakkol Karman in her blue tent. In Yemen she has been an opponent of the regime since 2007, leading a group called Women Journalists Without Chains. This year she took to the streets and inspired thousands more in Yemen to do the same.

Signal or token?

Most of the recipients in the award's 110-year history have been men: the judges said their decision was designed to give a boost to the fight for women's rights and 'a very important signal to women all over the world.'

'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,' they said.

Others argue that there are many men who have done more for peace in the past year and that awarding the prize to women smacks more of tokenism than a genuine recognition of achievement. To choose three women, they say, rubs it in. So many single men have won. Was there not a single woman who deserved the prize in her own right?

You Decide

  1. Are women naturally more inclined to bring peace than men?
  2. Imagine you could create a new Nobel Prize, to reward the best person in whatever field you chose. Which would be your chosen field – and why?


  1. The Nobel Prize medals are starting to look a little old fashioned. Design your own.
  2. Choose a previous winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Write a short biography, explaining what they did to earn the award.

Some People Say...

“The biggest single creator of world peace has been the nuclear bomb.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What exactly is a Nobel Prize?
There are Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Economics and Literature, as well as Peace. Each prize is regarded as probably the most distinguished award there is in its particular field.
How long have Nobel Prizes existed?
Since 1895, when a Swedish industrialist called Alfred Nobel left his fortune to the foundation that funds the prizes today.
Indeed. The story is that Nobel once read his own obituary in a newspaper after a false report of his death. He started thinking about ways he could improve his image with posterity.

Word Watch

A controversial website that allows people to share confidential or highly classified material anonymously. It became notorious after releasing a mountain of sensitive documentation about US diplomacy, including highly unflattering portraits of foreign leaders.
A small country in West Africa, founded by freed American slaves in the early 1800s. Liberia was ravaged by civil war until a peace deal in 2003. It remains poor and underdeveloped.
The practise of including women or members of an ethnic minority in order to appear unprejudiced rather than because of any genuine merit.

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