I woke up this morning to the amazing news that three women shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee; and Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni opposition leader. These three women have all been trailblazers for non-violent social activism and for the inclusion of women in peace building. As the Nobel Committee acknowledged in its announcement, “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.” I couldn’t agree more.
President Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first democratically elected woman president and she has worked to secure peace in Liberia, promote economic and social development, and to strengthen the position of women. Leymah Gbowee courageously organized women across ethnic and religious lines to bring an end to the war in Liberia, and that story was featured in the movie “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.” Tawakkul Karman has been a leader in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen.
War and conflict tear away the social fabric that supports women and families, creating instability. When men go to war — voluntarily or not — women are either left behind in shattered economies struggling to keep families intact or on the run from violence. Women are also often left to take on new roles that create new opportunities — think of Rosie the Riveter — which can exacerbate tensions when war ceases.
Yet, research shows that women are critical building blocks for a country post-conflict. Including women and civil society means it is more likely that agreements will hold. It is so exciting that the Nobel Committee has awarded the prize to three courageous women and in doing so, has highlighted the important role that women play in peace.