The awarding of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to Leymah Gbowee and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen, has turned the spotlight on the impact of conflict on women and girls – a theme we underlined in the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, “The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education.”
The three women share the prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.
Leymah Gbowee had a key role in the peace movement that ended that war, mobilizing women across the country and ensuring they could participate in elections.
She paid tribute to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – the first woman to be democratically elected as president of an African country – in an interview last year with the UN ECOSOC magazine Africa Renewal, saying that she had broken new ground for African women and provided a springboard for further advances. “When you talk to sisters across the continent, they say Ellen is the president for us all,” Gbowee said.
Armed conflict poses particular threats to the safety of girls and women. Sexual violence is widely used as a weapon of war – and the impact on education is huge. It leaves psychological trauma that inevitably impairs the potential for learning. Fear of sexual violence often keeps girls away from school. The family breakdown that often accompanies sexual violence undermines prospects of children being brought up in a nurturing environment.
In Liberia, not only was sexual violence widespread during the civil war that ended in 2003, but it has continued since.
After Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia in 2005, one of her strategies was to abolish primary school fees – a policy held as an example for other post-conflict countries by the 2011 GMR.
The third prize winner, Tawakul Karman, “has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen”, the Nobel Peace Prize committee said.