The 2012 Nobel Peace Award was awarded to the European Union on Friday. As well as honouring the winner, the award provides an opportunity to look at the role of women in the peace movement. This year, like most, there were some pretty amazing women in serious contention for the prize.
Although it has only been awarded to a woman on 15 occasions, it was a woman who in fact inspired the original Nobel Peace Award. In the late nineteenth century the aristocrat Baroness Bertha von Suttner became involved in the international movement against war. Her work drew the attention of the businessman and philanthropist Alfred Nobel who went on to provide financial support for her work. In his will, Alfred expressed that the Nobel Awards were to be established. His work with Baroness Bertha von Suttner provided his main motivation for an award for peace. Despite her key role, the Baroness was not given the Nobel Peace Award until 1905 - four years after the first award was made.
Another woman was not to receive the award until 1931. Most recently, three women from Liberia and the Yemen shared the award in 2011. They received it in recognition of their work promoting women’s rights in their own countries. Whilst there are relatively few women acknowledged through the Nobel Peace Prize process, there are many more actively working for peace and democracy without conflict and with the odds stacked against them.
Two incredibly inspiring women overlooked this year were:
Svetlana is best known for her work to support those living as refugees following conflicts in the former Soviet Union. She has been considered for the award in previous years and overlooked every time.
She is a founding member of two lobbying and aid organisations and has dedicated her life to championing the rights of refugees whose basic citizenship have been impacted by war. At Citizen’s Assistance she has lobbied for those seeking and needing asylum from Russia. In her work with The Human Rights Centre Memorial she has worked in Chechnya, were she provided humanitarian aid and legal assistance through the establishment of legal centres.
She is revered and denounced for her work and has courted some controversy – which some argue is the reason she has been overlooked for the Nobel Peace Award so many times before. Regardless, there is no doubt that she has saved lives and ensured a safer way of living for people displaced by war.
Lina was a university assistant lecturer in Tunisia at the time of the Tunisian uprising. When violence erupted she put aside her own personal safety to stay and report on the atrocities under the Ben Ali regime. She was one of the brave few who stayed inside the country to ensure activists and the international media got a true reflection of the killing and repression taking place.
Lina embraced social media and, in doing so, demonstrated how it can help in the fight against repression and the controlled propaganda of militant regimes. She continues to actively spread the word on conditions and political unrest now that the eyes of the world have drifted from the violent outbursts of the Arab Spring. Amongst her efforts she is one of many writing for Global Voices Online (GVO). GVO is an organisation that brings together ‘an international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen media from around the world’. Lina’s contributions are said to have inspired many citizen journalists across the Middle East, adding to this ‘global voice’ and contributing to the fight of many for a peaceful existence and a fight for human rights.
It is clear that women hold an important and inspiring role in defending rights, security and freedom of expression in the pursuit of a more peaceful world. It is sad that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to so few women and that so many have been passed over for political reasons. This aside, the award offers the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the work of these women.
More importantly it forces the question: Are women are doing enough to support each other’s causes the world over? When women in oppressed nations speak out they put their lives at risk. Sadly the shooting of 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai has highlighted this truth. It is truly terrifying that, in 2012, a regime is so threatened by a young girl who promotes free speech and education.
As these women and young girls fight via methods of non-conflict, regardless of how they are recognised, it is more important that we read their words and listen to their voices.
For more information on the Nobel Women visit the Nobel website.
For more information on supporting women’s rights internationally try UN Women and Global Voices.
Main and Svetlana Gannushkina image via Avaaz.org
Lina Ben Mhenni image via Wikimedia Commons