History

For Women’s History Month – women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, part 2

Interesting. Tools used by the women’s peace movement to end civil war in Liberia included a sex strike and also a threat to strip naked in front of the male peace conference delegates, since apparently seeing an older or married woman deliberately expose herself is considered a curse in Liberia. Go sisters – use what you got!

Today is also the death date and feast day of Saint Matilda of Saxony, who is my 39th great-grandmother and an ancestor of the Capetian dynasty in France. She was queen then empress of Germany, mother of Holy Roman Emperor Otto I as well as Hedwig (mother of Hugh Capet, first of the Capetian dynasty in France), founder of many monasteries and churches, and known for her charity work.

Jody Williams

Jody Williams (born 1950) is an American political activist known around the world for her work in banning anti-personnel landmines, her defense of human rights – especially those of women – and her efforts to promote new understandings of security in today’s world. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work toward the  banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines….

She served as the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) from early 1992 until February 1998. Prior to that work, she spent eleven years on various projects related to the wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

In an unprecedented cooperative effort with governments, UN bodies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, she served as a chief strategist and spokesperson for the ICBL, which she developed from two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with a staff of one – herself – to an international powerhouse of 1,300 NGOs in ninety countries.

From its small beginning and official launch in 1992, Williams and the ICBL dramatically achieved the campaign’s goal of an international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines during a diplomatic conference held in Oslo in September 1997. Three weeks later, she and the ICBL  were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At that time, she became the tenth woman – and third American woman – in its almost hundred-year history to receive the Prize.

In November 2004, after discussions with sister Peace Laureates Dr. Shirin Ebadi of Iran and the late Professor Wangari Maathai of Kenya, Williams took the lead in establishing the Nobel Women’s Initiative launched in January 2006; she since has served as its Chair. Through this Initiative, which brings together six of the female Peace Laureates alive today, the women seek to use their access and influence to support and promote the work of women around the world working for peace with justice and equality. (Aung San Suu Kyi is an honorary member.)

Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi (born 21 June 1947) is an Iranian lawyer, a former judge and human rights activist and founder of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. On 10 October 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her significant and pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights, especially women’s, children’s, and refugee rights. She was the first ever Iranian to receive the prize.

In 2009, Ebadi’s award was allegedly confiscated by Iranian authorities, though this was later denied by the Iranian government. If true, she would be the first person in the history of the Nobel Prize whose award has been forcibly seized by state authorities.

Ebadi lived in Tehran, but she has been in exile in the UK since June 2009 due to the increase in persecution of Iranian citizens who are critical of the current regime. In 2004, she was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the “100 most powerful women in the world”. She is also included in a published list of the “100 most influential women of all time.”

Wangari Muta Maathai

Wangari Muta Maathai (1 April 1940 – 25 September 2011) was a Kenyan environmental and political activist. She was educated in the United States at Mount St. Scholastica (Benedictine College) and the University of Pittsburgh, as well as the University of Nairobi in Kenya. In the 1970s, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. In 1986, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, and in 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”. Maathai was an elected member of Parliament and served as assistant minister for Environment and Natural Resources in the government of PresidentMwai Kibaki between January 2003 and November 2005. Furthermore she was an Honorary Councillor of the World Future Council. In 2011, Maathai died of complications from ovarian cancer.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (born 29 October 1938) is the 24th and current President of Liberia. She served as Minister of Finance under President William Tolbert from 1979 until the 1980 coup d’état, after which she left Liberia and held senior positions at various financial institutions. She placed second in the 1997 presidential election won by Charles Taylor. She won the 2005 presidential election and took office on 16 January 2006, and she was a successful candidate for re-election in 2011. Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in Africa.

Sirleaf was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakel Karman of Yemen. The women were recognized “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Sirleaf was conferred the Indira Gandhi Prize by President of India Pranab Mukherjee on 12 September 2013. As of 2014, she is listed as the 70th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.

Leymah Roberta Gbowee

Leymah Roberta Gbowee (born 1 February 1972) is a Liberian peace activist responsible for leading a women’s peace movement that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Her efforts to end the war, along with her collaborator Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, helped usher in a period of peace and enabled a free election in 2005 that Sirleaf won. This made Liberia the first African nation to have a female president. She, along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman, were awarded the 2011Nobel Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

An article on Gbowee in O: The Oprah Magazine painted this backdrop:

The Liberian civil war, which lasted from 1989 to 2003 with only brief interruptions, was the result of economic inequality, a struggle to control natural resources, and deep-rooted rivalries among various ethnic groups, including the descendants of the freed American slaves who founded the country in 1847. The war involved the cynical use of child soldiers, armed with lightweight Kalashnikovs, against the country’s civilian population. At the center of it all was Charles Taylor, the ruthless warlord who initiated the first fighting and would eventually serve as Liberian president until he was forced into exile in 2003….

In the spring of 2002, Gbowee was spending her days employed in trauma-healing work and her evenings as the unpaid leader of WIPNET in Liberia. Her children, now including an adopted daughter named Lucia “Malou” (bringing the number of children to five), were living in Ghana under her sister’s care. Falling asleep in the WIPNET office one night, she awoke from a dream where she says God had told her, “Gather the women and pray for peace!” Some friends helped her to understand that the dream was not meant for others, as Gbowee thought; instead, she realized that it was a necessary for her to act upon it herself.

Following a WIPNET training session in Liberia, Gbowee and her allies, including a Mandingo-Muslim woman named Asatu, began by “going to the mosques on Friday at noon after prayers, to the markets on Saturday morning, to two churches every Sunday.” Their flyers read: “We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped! Women, wake up – you have a voice in the peace process!” They also handed out simple drawings explaining their purpose to the many women who couldn’t read.

By the summer of 2002, Gbowee was recognized as the spokeswoman and inspirational leader of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, described as a peace movementthat started with local women praying and singing in a fish market. Working across religious and ethnic lines, Gbowee led thousands of Christian and Muslim women to gather in Monrovia for months. They prayed for peace, using Muslim and Christian prayers, and eventually held daily nonviolent demonstrations and sit-ins in defiance of orders from the tyrannical president at that time, Charles Taylor.

They staged protests that included the threat of a curse and a sex strike. Of the strike, Gbowee says, “The [sex] strike lasted, on and off, for a few months. It had little or no practical effect, but it was extremely valuable in getting us media attention.” In a highly risky move, the women finally occupied a field that had been used for soccer; it was beside Tubman Boulevard, the route Charles Taylor traveled twice a day, to and from Capitol Hill. To make themselves more recognizable as a group, all of the women wore T-shirts that were white, signifying peace, with the WIPNET logo and white hair ties. Taylor finally granted a hearing for the women on April 23, 2003. With more than 2,000 women amassed outside his executive mansion, Gbowee was the person designated to make their case to him. Gbowee positioned her face to be seen by Taylor but directed her words to Grace Minor, the president of the senate and the only female government official present:

We are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for bulgur wheat. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, “Mama, what was your role during the crisis?”

In her book, Gbowee reveals that Grace Minor quietly “gave a great deal of her own money… at enormous personal risk” to the women’s protest movement. The protesting women extracted a promise from President Charles Taylor to attend peace talks in Ghana to negotiate with the rebels from Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy and another newer rebel group, MODEL.

In June 2003, Gbowee led a delegation of Liberian women to Ghana to put pressure on the warring factions during the peace-talk process. At first the women sat in a daily demonstration outside the posh hotels where the negotiators met, pressuring for progress in the talks. When the talks dragged from early June through late July, with no progress made and violence continuing in Liberia, Gbowee led dozens of women, eventually swelling to a couple hundred, inside the hotel, where they simply “dropped down, in front of the glass door that was the main entrance to the meeting room.” They held signs that said: “Butchers and murderers of the Liberian people — STOP!” Gbowee passed a message to the lead mediator, General Abubakar (a former president of Nigeria), that the women would interlock their arms and remain seated in the hallway, holding the delegates “hostage” until a peace agreement was reached. Abubakar, who proved to be sympathetic to the women, announced with some amusement: “The peace hall has been seized by General Leymah and her troops.” When the men tried to leave the hall, Leymah and her allies threatened to rip their clothes off: “In Africa, it’s a terrible curse to see a married or elderly woman deliberately bare herself.” With Abubakar’s support, the women remained sitting outside the negotiating room during the following days, ensuring that the “atmosphere at the peace talks changed from circuslike to somber.”

The Liberian war ended officially weeks later, with the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement on August 18, 2003. “But what we [women] did marked the beginning of the end.”

In addition to bringing an end to 14 years of warfare in Liberia, this women’s movement led to the 2005 election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president of Liberia, the first elected woman leader of a country in Africa. Sirleaf is co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize along with Gbowee and Tawakel Karman. The three were awarded the prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” In Sirleaf’s re-election campaign of 2011, Gbowee endorsed her.

Tawakul Karman

Tawakul Karman, a young Yemeni activist, was one of three women (the other two from Liberia) awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.  She has organized protests within Yemen for freedom and human rights, heading the organization, Women Journalists Without Chains. Using nonviolence to fuel the movement, she has strongly urged the world to see that fighting terrorism and religious fundamentalism in Yemen (where al-Qaeda is a presence) means working to end poverty and increase human rights — including women’s rights — rather than backing an autocratic and corrupt central government.

Malala Yousafzai

The youngest person to win a Nobel Prize, Malala Yousafzai was an advocate for the education of girls from 2009, when she was eleven years old. In 2012, a Taliban gunman shot her in the head. She survived the shooting, recovered in England where her family moved to avoid further targeting, and continued to speak out for the education of all children including girls.

Today in women’s history:

968: Saint Matilda (Matilda of Ringelheim), Queen of Germany and mother of Emperor Otto I, died

1489: Catherine Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, sold Cyprus to Venice

1807: Joséphine of Leuchtenberg born: Queen consort of King Oscar I of Sweden and Norway

1808: Narcissa Prentiss Whitman born

1815: Josephine Lange born: composer

1822: Teresa Cristina of the Two Sicilies born: Empress consort of Dom Pedro II of Brazil, daughter of King Don Francesco I

1830?: Sarah Flournoy Moore Chapin born

1833: Lucy Hobbs Taylor born: dentist, women’s rights advocate; first woman in US to be granted a dentistry degree (1866)

1851: Anna Caroline Maxwell born

1868: Emily Murphy born: Canadian women’s rights advocate, one of the Famous Five in the Persons Case

1875: Isadore Gilbert Mudge born

1877: Edna Woolman Chase born: Vogueeditor

1887: Sylvia Woodbridge Beach born: bookseller, publisher

1894: Osa Helen Leighty Johnson born: explorer, filmmaker, writer

1899: Ada Kramm born: actress

1904: Doris Eaton Travis born: actress, dancer, last surviving of the “Ziegfield girls” (she died in 2010)

1921: Ada Louise Huxtable born: architecture critic and writer

1923: Diane Arbus born: photographer

1958: Princess Grace (former movie star Grace Kelly) gave birth to a son, Prince Albert, who thereby became heir to the throne, displacing his older sister, Princess Caroline

1977: Fannie Lou Hamer died: civil rights activist

Feast Day: Saint Matilda of Saxony (or Matilda of Ringelheim), queen of Germany

Quote for Today

A girl should not expect special privileges because of her sex but neither should she adjust to prejudice and discrimination. – Betty Friedan

 

 

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