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Norway: Yemen's veiled mother of the revolution acclaimed as joint 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate PDF Print E-mail


images/stories/Guardian_logo.gif London ~ Saturday October 8 2011, page 2

Tawakkul Karman – profile
The human rights activist, joint winner of the Nobel peace prize, has emerged as a figurehead of the opposition in Yemen
By Tom Finn
images/stories/TawakkulKarmanNobel.jpg Tawakkul Karman, known by some as the 'mother of the revolution', has long been a thorn in the side of Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

Known to some of Yemen's opposition movement as the "mother of the revolution", Tawakkul Karman has emerged as a crucial figure among the youth activists who began camping out at Change Square in central Sana'a in early February, demanding the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's three-decade rule.

In Yemen, a 32-year-old mother of three may seem an unlikely leader of the fight to overthrow the president, but Karman – a journalist and human rights activist – has long been a thorn in Saleh's side and has been jailed many times.

She was catapulted into the international spotlight this January after being seized from her car and slung into prison. Thousands of people poured on to the streets of Sana'a calling for her release. It was a key moment in Yemen's uprising when the tide began to turn against Saleh.

Despite her tireless campaigning, the news that Karman had received the Nobel award was greeted with shock by many Yemenis on Friday. "My initial reaction was shock and disbelief. We are not accustomed to good news these days," said Atiaf Al-Wazir, a Yemeni-American blogger and activist. The award comes at a tense moment in Yemen's uprising. In the past fortnight protesters have found themselves caught in the middle of fierce gun battles between regime forces and defected soldiers who have been guarding the main protest camp since March. More than a 100 protesters have been killed in the latest round of bloodshed.

"Hopefully, this peace prize will raise people's demand for peace and prevent a civil war from happening in Yemen," said Rana Jarhum, a young female protest leader from the coordinating council at Change Square.

"This puts Yemen on the map, not for 'terrorist links' but for promotion of peace," said Salem Ben Mubarak, a leader of the coordinating council of revolutionary change.

She was discussing an escalation of tactics with protest leaders in her tent in Change Square when she received news of the award. Soon swarms of jubilant protesters had gathered around her tent, shouting slogans and celebrating.

Karman identifies herself first and foremost as a campaigner for Yemen's alienated youth, but she is also a member of Yemen's leading Islamic opposition party, the Islah, which has been co-ordinating many of the protests against Saleh and buying food and medical supplies for the thousands camped out in Change Square. It has caused alarm in the west, mainly because of its most notorious member, Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a former adviser to Osama bin Laden considered a terrorist by the US.

But Karman's relationship with the Islah is complicated. She maintains it is the best party in Yemen for supporting female members, but last October ran into trouble after publishing a paper condemning ultra-conservative party members for blocking a bill to make it illegal to marry girls under the age of 17. "The extremist people hate me. They speak about me in the mosques and pass round leaflets condemning me as un-Islamic. They say I'm trying to take women away from their houses," she told the Guardian in March.

Some student protesters have accused her and her party of trying to hijack their movement in a bid for power. Karman responded: "Our party needs the youth but the youth also need the parties to help them organise. Neither will succeed in overthrowing this regime without the other. We don't want the international community to label our revolution an Islamic one." Last year she narrowly escaped with her life when a female assassin tried to stab her with a traditional dagger known as a jambiya. Karman says her crowds of supporters helped her survive the attack.

Many see Karman's award as recognition of the growing involvement of Yemen's women in the uprising. In a country where most women are neither seen nor heard, thousands have taken to the streets in recent months, defying authority and the weight of tradition to call for the fall of the regime, and the sight of 10,000 of them marching down a six-lane motorway in mid-April after Saleh accused them of "mingling with men" was too much for some to bear.

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images/stories/Indpdt_logo.png London ~ Friday, 7 October 2011
Nobel Peace Prize goes to women's rights activists 

images/stories/NobelPeace2011.jpgTawakkul Karman of Yemen, Liberian peace activist Leyma Gbowee and Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf(AP)

Africa's first democratically elected female president, a Liberian peace activist and a woman who stood up to Yemen's authoritarian regime won the Nobel Peace Prize today for their work to secure women's rights, which the prize committee described as fundamental to advancing world peace.

The 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award was split three ways between Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, peace activist Leyma Gbowee from the same African country and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen ­ the first Arab woman to win the prize.

By citing Karman, the committee also appeared to be acknowledging the effects of the Arab Spring, which has challenged authoritarian regimes across the region.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee honored the three women "for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

"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," the prize committee said.

Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said he hoped the prize would bring more attention to rape and other violence against women as well as women's role in promoting democracy in Africa and the Arab and Muslim world.

Karman is a 32-year-old mother of three who heads the human rights group Women Journalists without Chains. She has been a leading figure in organizing protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh that kicked off in late January as part of a wave of anti-authoritarian revolts that have convulsed the Arab world.

"I am very very happy about this prize," Karman told The Associated Press. "I give the prize to the youth of revolution in Yemen and the Yemeni people."

Citing the Arab Spring alone could have been problematic for the committee. The unrest toppled authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. But Libya descended into civil war that led to NATO military intervention. Egypt and Tunisia are still in turmoil. Hardliners are holding onto power in Yemen and Syria and a Saudi-led force crushed the uprising in Bahrain, leaving an uncertain record for the Arab protest movement.

Jagland said it was difficult to find a leader of the Arab Spring revolts, especially among the many bloggers who played a role in energizing the protests, and noted that Kamran's work started before the Arab uprisings.

"Many years before the revolutions started she stood up against one of the most authoritarian and autocratic regimes in the world," he told reporters.

Liberia was ravaged by civil wars for years until 2003. The drawn-out conflict that began in 1989 left about 200,000 people dead and displaced half the country's population of 3 million. The country ­ created to settle freed American slaves in 1847 ­ is still struggling to maintain a fragile peace with the help of U.N. peacekeepers.

Sirleaf, 72, has a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University and has held top regional jobs at the World Bank, the United Nations and within the Liberian government.

In elections in 1997, she ran second to warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, who many claimed was voted into power by a fearful electorate. Though she lost by a landslide, she rose to national prominence and earned the nickname, "Iron Lady." She went on to became Africa's first democratically elected female leader in 2005.

Sirleaf was seen as a reformer and peacemaker in Liberia when she took office. She is running for re-election this month and opponents in the presidential campaign have accused her of buying votes and using government funds to campaign. Her camp denies the charges. The election is Tuesday.

In a 2005 interview with The Associated Press, Sirleaf said she hoped young girls would see her as a role model and be inspired.

"I certainly hope more and more of them will be better off, women in Liberia, women in Africa, I hope even women in the world."

"If you're competing with men as a professional, you have to be better than they are ... and make sure you get their respect as an equal," Johnson-Sirleaf said. "It's been hard. Even when you gain their acceptance, it's in a male-dominated away. They say, 'Oh, now she's one of the boys."

Buttons from her presidential campaign say it all: "Ellen ­ She's Our Man."

The committee cited Johnson Sirleaf's efforts to secure peace in her country, promote economic and social development and strengthen the position of women.

Jagland said the committee didn't consider the upcoming election in Liberia when it made its decision.

"We cannot look to that domestic consideration," he said. "We have to look at Alfred Nobel's will, which says that the prize should go to the person that has done the most for peace in the world."

Gbowee, who organized a group of Christian and Muslim women to challenge Liberia's warlords, was honored for mobilizing women "across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women's participation in elections."

Gbowee has long campaigned for the rights of women and against rape. In 2003, she led hundreds of female protesters through Monrovia to demand swift disarmament of fighters who preyed on women throughout Liberia during 14 years of near-constant civil war.

In 2009, she won a Profile in Courage Award, an honor named for a 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book written by John F. Kennedy, for her work in emboldening women in Liberia.

Gbowee works in Ghana's capital as the director of Women Peace and Security Network Africa. The group's website says she also won a 2007 Blue Ribbon Award from Harvard University and was the central character of an award-winning documentary called "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."

The group's website says she is a mother of five.

"I know Leymah to be a warrior daring to enter where others would not dare," said Gbowee's assistant, Bertha Amanor. "So fair and straight, and a very nice person."

Yemen is an extremely conservative society but a feature of the uprising there has been a prominent role for women who turned out for protests in large numbers.

Karman is from Taiz, a city in southern Yemen that is a hotbed of resistance against Saleh's regime, and now lives in the capital, Sanaa. She is a journalist and member of Islah, an Islamic party. Her father is a former legal affairs minister under Saleh.

Long an advocate for human rights and freedom of expression in Yemen, she has been campaigning for Saleh's ouster since 2006 and mounted an initiative to organize Yemeni youth groups and opposition into a national council.

On Jan. 23, Karman was arrested at her home. After widespread protests against her detention ­ it is rare for Yemen women to be taken to jail ­ she was released early the next day.

Karman has been dubbed "Iron Woman, "The Mother of Revolution" and "The Spirit of the Yemeni Revolution" by fellow protesters.

During a February rally in Sanaa, she told the AP: "We will retain the dignity of the people and their rights by bringing down the regime."

The peace prize was in line with Norway's development aid strategy, which is often focused on women's rights. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called the award "important and worthy."

In his 1895 will, award creator Alfred Nobel gave only vague guidelines for the peace prize, saying it should honor "work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

The peace prize is the only Nobel handed out in Oslo, Norway. The other five awards ­ in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics ­ are presented in Stockholm.

Last year's peace prize went to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
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images/stories/irishtimes-logo.gif Dublin ~ Friday October 07, 2011
Three women win Nobel Peace Prize
images/stories/IeTimesNobelPeace2011.gif Nobel Peace Prize winners (left to right) Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf; Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman. (Reuters)

By CHARLIE TAYLOR

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 has been jointly awarded to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for their roles in advancing the rights of women.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said this morning it was recognising the women "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work".

Liberia's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is Africa’s first democratically elected female president. Since her inauguration as president in 2006, Ms Johnson-Sirleaf has been widely praised for her part in promoting economic and social development and to strengthening the position of women on the continent.

However, Ms Johnson-Sirleaf (72), who is running for a second term in an election next Tuesday has also faced criticism for not having done enough to heal the divisions of years of civil war in the country.

Ms Johnson-Sirleaf's compatriot Leymah Gbowee was awarded for her role in mobilising and organising women to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections.

Tawakkul Karman has been recognised for played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen.

Ms Karman said today the award was a victory for Yemen's democracy activists and added they would not give up until they had won full rights in a "democratic, modern Yemen".

"This is a victory for the youth first and foremost. We are here to win our freedom and dignity in their entirety. Our youth revolution wants our complete rights," she told broadcaster Al Jazeera, from "Change Square", centre of the protest movement.

"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," said the Nobel Committee's chairman Thorbjoern Jagland.

"It is the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s hope that the prize to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realise the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent," it added.

This is only the second time in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize that it has been shared among three people. Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin were previously awarded the prize in 1994.

Other past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize include Martin Luther King Jr, Lech Walesa, Aung San Suu Kyi, Barack Obama and Mother Teresa.

John Hume and David Trimble were jointly awarded the prize in 1998 for their work on the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The award includes a cash prize of 10 million Swedish kronor (€1.1 million). The prize will be presented to the winners in Oslo on December 10th.