On 10 December 2011, Leymah Roberta Gbowee of Liberia, Tawakkol Karman of Yemen and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf were presented with the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.

In their acceptance speeches, they spoke of the commitment and achievements of countless other women working for peace and called upon women and men to continue nonviolent struggle.

We reproduce some short excerpts here. The full Nobel lectures can be found at: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2011/

Nobel Lecture by Leymah Roberta Gbowee, (excerpts)

….Today marks a very historic day as the Nobel Peace Prize is being awarded to me, Tawakul, and my own President and Mother, Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in honor of all women globally.

Early 2003, seven of us women gathered in a makeshift office / conference room to discuss the Liberian civil war and the fast approaching war on the capital Monrovia. Armed with nothing but our conviction and $10 United States dollars, the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Campaign was born….

We used our pains, broken bodies and scarred emotions to confront the injustices and terror of our nation. We were aware that the end of the war will only come through non–violence, as we had all seen that the use of violence was taking us and our beloved country deeper into the abyss of pains, death, and destruction.

The women's Mass Action Campaign started in one community and spread to over 50 communities across Liberia. We worked daily confronting warlords, meeting with dictators and refusing to be silenced in the face of AK 47 and RPGs. We walked when we had no transportation, we fasted when water was unaffordable, we held hands in the face of danger, we spoke truth to power when everyone else was being diplomatic, we stood under the rain and the sun with our children to tell the world the stories of the other side of the conflict.

Our educational backgrounds, travel experiences, faiths, and social classes did not matter. We had a common agenda: Peace for Liberia Now.

We succeeded when no one thought we would, we were the conscience of the ones who had lost their consciences in their quest for power and political positions. We represented the soul of the nation….

There are many examples globally of such struggles by women. I believe that the prize this year not only recognizes our struggle in Liberia and Yemen. It is in recognition and honor of the struggles of grass roots women in Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Tunisia, in Palestine and Israel, and in every troubled corner of the world….

This prize could not have come at a better time than this; a time when global and community conversations are about how local community members and unarmed civilians can help turn our upside-down World, right-side up. It has come at a time when unarmed citizens — men and women, boys and girls — are challenging dictatorships and ushering in democracy and the sovereignty of people;

Yes! It has come at a time when in many societies where women used to be the silent victims and objects of men's powers, women are throwing down the walls of repressive traditions with the invincible power of non-violence…. This prize has come at a time when ordinary mothers are no longer begging for peace, but demanding peace, justice, equality and inclusion in political decision-making.

I must be quick to add that this prize is not just in recognition of the triumph of women. It is a triumph of humanity. To recognize and honor women, the other half of humanity, is to achieve universal wholeness and balance. Like the women I met in Congo DRC over a year ago who said "Rape and abuse is the result of larger problem, and that problem is the absence of women in the decision making space". If women were part of decision-making in most societies, there would be less exclusive policies and laws that are blind to abuses women endure….

As we celebrate our achievement through this recognition let us remind ourselves that victory is still afar. We must continue to unite in sisterhood to turn our tears into triumph, our despair into determination and our fear into fortitude. There is no time to rest until our world achieves wholeness and balance, where all men and women are considered equal and free…

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2011


Nobel Lecture by Tawakkol Karman (excerpts)

....I have always believed that resistance against repression and violence is possible without relying on similar repression and violence. I have always believed that human civilization is the fruit of the effort of both women and men. So, when women are treated unjustly and are deprived of their natural right in this process, all social deficiencies and cultural illnesses will be unfolded, and in the end the whole community, men and women, will suffer. The solution to women’s issues can only be achieved in a free and democratic society in which human energy is liberated, the energy of both women and men together. Our civilization is called human civilization and is not attributed only to men or women….

Peace within one country is no less important than peace between countries. War is not just a conflict between states. There is another type of war, which is far more bitter, that is the war of despotic leaders who oppress their own people. It is a war of those to whom people have entrusted their lives and destinies, but who have betrayed that trust. It is a war of those to whom people have entrusted their security, but who directed their weapons against their own people. It is the war which today people face in the Arab States.

At this moment, as I speak to you here, young Arab people, both women and men, march in peaceful demonstrations demanding freedom and dignity from their rulers. They go forward on this noble path armed not with weapons, but with faith in their right to freedom and dignity. They march in a dramatic scene which embodies the most beautiful of the human spirit of sacrifice and the aspiration to freedom and life, against the ugliest forms of selfishness, injustice and the desire to hold on to power and wealth.

Peace does not mean just to stop wars, but also to stop oppression and injustice….

When I heard the news that I had got the Nobel Peace Prize, I was in my tent in the Taghyeer square in Sana'a. I was one of millions of revolutionary youth…

Millions of Yemeni women and men, children, young and old took to the streets in eighteen provinces demanding their right to freedom, justice and dignity, using non-violent but effective means to achieve their demands. We were able to efficiently and effectively maintain a peaceful revolution in spite of the fact that this great nation has more than seventy million firearms of various types. Here lies the philosophy of the revolution, which persuaded millions of people to leave their weapons at home and join the peaceful march against the state’s machine of murder and violence, just with flowers and bare breasts, and filled with dreams, love and peace…

….Standing here before you…. I see the great number of Arab women, without whose hard struggles and quest to win their rights in a society dominated by the supremacy of men I wouldn’t be here. This supremacy has caused a lot of injustice to both men and women. To all those women, whom history and the severity of ruling systems have made unseen, to all women who made sacrifices for the sake of a healthy society with just relationships between women and men, to all those women who are still stumbling on the path of freedom in countries with no social justice or equal opportunities, to all of them I say: thank you ... this day wouldn’t have come true without you.

Peace be upon you

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2011


Nobel Lecture by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (excerpts)

A Voice for Freedom!

....In its selection this year, the Nobel Committee has brought here three women linked by their commitment to change, and by their efforts to promote the rule of law and democracy in societies riven by conflict. The fact that we – two women from Liberia – are here today to share the stage with a sister from Yemen speaks to the universality of our struggle….

The enduring spirit of the great women whose work transcended gender and geographical boundaries is in this room with us. From Baroness Bertha Felicie Sophie von Suttner

of Austria, honored for promoting the Hague Peace Conference of 1899, to Jane Addams of Hull House fame; from the American activist Emily Greene Balch to Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan of Northern Ireland; from Mother Teresa to the heroic Aung San Suu Kyi , as well as Rigoberta Menchu , Jody Williams , Shirin Ebadi , and Wangari Maathai : these our forebears, these women who are Nobel Peace Laureates, challenge us to redouble our efforts in the relentless pursuit of peace….

I also honor the memory of countless women whose efforts and sacrifice will never be recognized, but who, in their private and silent struggles, helped to shape our world….

There is no doubt that the madness that wrought untold destruction in recent years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Rwanda, in Sierra Leone, in Sudan, in Somalia, in the former Yugoslavia, and in my own Liberia, found its expression in unprecedented levels of cruelty directed against women.

Although international tribunals have correctly declared that rape, used as a weapon of war, is a crime against humanity, rapes in times of lawlessness continue unabated. The number of our sisters and daughters of all ages brutally defiled over the past two decades staggers the imagination, and the number of lives devastated by such evil defies comprehension.----

However, the need to defend the rights of women is not limited to the battlefield, and the threats to those rights do not emanate only from armed violence. Girls’ education, seen far too often as an unnecessary indulgence rather than the key investment it is, is still under-funded and under-staffed. Too often girls are discouraged from pursuing an academic training, no matter how promising they may be.

As we celebrate today, we are mindful of the enormous challenges we still face. In too many parts of the world, crimes against women are still under-reported, and the laws protecting women are under-enforced….

Yet, there is occasion for optimism and hope. There are good signs of progress and change. Around the world, slowly, international law and an awareness of human rights are illuminating dark corners, in schools, in courts, in the marketplace…. Democracies, even if tentatively, are taking root in lands unaccustomed to freedom.

As curtains are raised and as the sun shines upon dark places, what was previously invisible comes into view. Technology has turned our world into one interconnected neighborhood. What happens in one place is seen in every corner, and there has been no better time for the spread of peace, democracy and their attending social justice and fairness for all.

Today, across the globe, women, and also men, from all walks of life are finding the courage to say, loudly and firmly, in a thousand languages, “No more.” They reject mindless violence, and defend the fundamental values of democracy, of open society, of freedom, and of peace….

There will be failures along the way, for the world will not change overnight. But we have seen change in our lifetimes, and the world will continue to change in ways that affect us all. As inscribed on the wall of the memorial to Nobel Laureate Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”…

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2011


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