The Norwegian Nobel Institute has named three women as joint winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize -- Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian-born peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni rights activist Tawakkul Karman.
The women were honored "for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work."
Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, announced the winners today in Oslo.
"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 realize the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent," Jagland said.
In Monrovia, Sirleaf told the Voice of America's James Butty that the award was a recognition of her people's struggle for peace.
"I'm very excited. I'm very thankful. And I'm also humbled to have this award," she said. "I believe it's a recognition of my many years of struggle, but I also believe it's a recognition of the Liberian people's quest for peace."
Sirleaf also praised her countrywoman and fellow recipient Gbowee, claimng "She mobilized women to challenge a dictatorship."
"We owe it to African women and we can just recommit to working harder for equal opportunity for all women to reach their potential," she said. "I hope we become the role models and that that will motivate and inspire women the world over to go for leadership, to take a greater role in their societies."
Gbowee said in New York after the award was announced that it was "a Nobel for African women."
She said that for African women in the world, and for women in general, "there is this recognition now that we have our say." Gbowee also said, "there is no way that anyone can minimize our role anymore."
The 32-year-old Karman -- who has been called the "mother of the revolution" against the regime of Yemeni President Abdullah Ali Saleh -- dedicated the prize to the "youth of revolution in Yemen and the Yemeni people."
The Nobel committee's Jagland praised Johnson-Sirleaf's work to bring peace to her country, as well as social and economic justice, since she became the Liberian president.
"Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is Africa’s first democratically elected female president. Since her inauguration in 2006, she has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women," Jagland said.
Jagland said Gbowee's work has been fundamental to peace efforts in Liberia and in West Africa.
"Leymah Gbowee mobilized and organized 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. She has since worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war," Jagland said.
Jagland said Karman's selection highlighted the Nobel Committee's view that the "oppression of women" is "the most important issue in the Arab world."
"In the most trying circumstances, both before and during the Arab Spring, Tawakkul Karman has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy in Yemen," Jagland said.
Work Prior To Arab Spring
When asked why other activists were not named for their involvement in Arab Spring demonstrations against authoritarian rulers, Jagland said it was because Karman's work dates back long before the popular uprisings that began early this year.
"Tawakkul Karman showed the courage long before the revolution started. Many years before, she stood up against one of the most authoritarian and autocratic regimes in the world. You cannot get the Nobel Peace Prize for, I mean, I appreciate very much the bloggers. But we want to appreciate those who were courageous enough long before the world's media was there and reporting," Jagland said.
Ahmed Maher, a prominent Egyptian activist who co-founded Egypt's "April 6" protest group in Cairo, said awarding the prize to Karman would further inspire the "Arab revolutions." He called the award "a source of pride for all Arabs," adding that he hopes the Nobel Prize will help make the uprising in Yemen and other Arab countries successful.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said of the three recipients: "They are shining examples of the difference that women can make and the progress they can help achieve when given the opportunity to make decisions about the future of their societies and countries."
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel -- considered one of the world's most powerful women -- called the vote by the Nobel Committee on October 7 a "wise decision" that sends a message to the whole world.
Women, Peace and Security Network Africa, the Ghana-based non-governmental founded by Gbowee, said the recognition would boost the women's movement in Africa and around the world.
Amnesty International said the award was vital recognition of the struggle for women's rights.
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said the Nobel Peace Prize decision was "a tribute to all women whose tireless work and brave protests helped bring about peace and democracy, and to those women who are still fighting for it today."
EU president Herman Van Rompuy, and Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of its executive body, said today's Nobel Peace Prize announcement was "a victory for a new democratic Africa and for a new democratic Arab world that live in peace and respect for human rights."
They also said the award was "recognition of the pivotal role that women play in the peaceful settlement of conflicts and democratic transformation throughout the world."
In an interview with RFE/RL in April, Karman said she had seen close friends beaten or shot by pro-Saleh forces and also had been attacked herself by gunmen loyal to the regime.
Despite the violence, Karman said she remained committed to the nonviolent tactics of her heroes -- Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.
Karman also told RFE/RL that the violent crackdown against the prodemocracy demonstrators in Yemen by Saleh's forces had backfired.
"This violence had a positive impact on the psychology of the protestors but in a positive way. They became very angry and even more resistant [to the regime]. They came to have the will to realize their legal demands, to achieve the freedom and topple the regime," Karman said.
Reacting to the announcement, Karman said she dedicated the prize to the "youth of revolution in Yemen and the Yemeni people."
All three women will receive a Nobel diploma, a gold medal and an equal share of $1.48 million in prize money at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10.