Africa’s first elected female President; Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been named as a winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. The Liberian President emerged joint winners with two other women, Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist and Tawakul Karman, a female Yemeni journalist and activist.
72 –year old Mrs. Sirleaf is seeking re-election in an election which holds on Tuesday.
She is obviously not new to public service, having served as the Minister of Finance in the late 1970s and later as Africa’s
Director at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Sirleaf was imprisoned in the 1980s for criticising the military regime of Samuel Doe. She threw her weight behind Charles Taylor in his struggle for power, though the two later fell out after Taylor became Liberia’s President. Ellen Sirleaf was subsequently charged with treason.
She emerged as President after flooring former Worlds Best Footballer, George Opong Weah in a run-off election in 2005.
Leymah Gbowee on the other hand got recognised for her efforts in mobilising and organising 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. According to the Nobel Committee, “she has since worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war”.
She is also credited with organising a group of Liberian women in 2002 to put pressure on then-President Charles Taylor to end the country’s brutal civil war.
After the war Gbowee also organised hundreds of female Christian and Muslim activists in nine of Liberia’s 15 provinces to help Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s successful campaign for the presidency in 2005.
Tawakul Karman, a 32-year-old mother of three founded Women Journalists Without Chains in 2005. She has been a prominent activist and advocate of human rights and freedom of expression for the last five years.
She has led regular protests through which she calls for the release of political prisoners.
Karman has also led rallies in the continuing protests against the rule of President Ali-Abdullah Saleh of Yemen.
She is a member of Yemen’s leading Islamist opposition party, the Islah – a conservative, religious movement that calls for reform in accordance with Islamic principles.She has campaigned to raise the minimum age at which women can marry in Yemen.