Yemeni activist Tawakul Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her role in the Arab Spring along with two other Liberian women who mobilized a women’s ‘sex strike’ which ended a 14-year civil war in their country. Tawakul Karman, the 32-year-old mother of three who formed the group Women Journalist Without Chains in 2005, dedicated her prize to the women of Yemen fighting against tribalism and oppression. As well as going some way to help ensure that women’s role in the Arab Spring isn’t marginalised, the Nobel Peace Prize should also remind those who need reminding that Muslim woman can and do play an important role in the transformation of their societies.
There’s no doubt that 2011 has been an unforgettable year for the Arab world and it seems that with extraordinary times, you get the rise of extraordinary people who move the average citizens to aspire for better. In the Arab world, those tipped as candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize included Lina Ben Mhenni who blogged about oppression and censorship in Tunisia before the fall of the government, Wael Ghonim and also Israa Abdel Fatteh who setup the facebook page ‘April 6 Youth, the Egyptian Resistance Movement’. Yet despite the media hype that the Arab Spring activist most likely to win the Nobel Peace Prize would be Wael Ghonim, I was happily surprised that a female activist still struggling for women’s rights and democracy in Yemen won.
Yemen is believed to be one of the poorest nations in the world, it has huge problems with regard to women’s rights and is also struggling with environmental problems such as extreme water shortages. Indeed, some experts fear that Sana’a will become the world’ first waterless capital city. Despite these restrictions, Tawakul Karman managed to grow and develop and has played a leading part in the struggle for peace and gender equality in her country. Following the news that Saudi women will be granted the right to vote and run for elections, it seems that the Arab Spring has been able to usher in some good news not only for democracy but also for women.
What we need to remember, however, is that Karman is still locked in battle with the Yemeni government headed by president Ali Abdullah Saleh who has run the country for 33 years. Several hundred protestors have been killed since nationwide unrest broke out in February and Karman herself was briefly arrested. Writing for the Guardian in April of this year she said:
“I call on the United States and the European Union to tell Saleh that he must leave now, in response to the demands of his people. They should end all support for his regime, especially that which is used to crush peaceful opposition – tear gas canisters have “Made in America” on them…
If the US and Europe genuinely support the people, as they say, they must not betray our peaceful revolution. It is the expression of the democratic will of the overwhelming majority of the people of Yemen.”