For the first time since Wangari Maathai, who passed away last month, a woman has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Three women, to be exact — Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and Tawakul Karman of Yemen.
Johnson Sirleaf has been president of Liberia since 2006, and is currently in the midst of a contentious election campaign. While in office, she's worked to reduce Liberia's debt and investigate those involved in the country's civil wars, although she's also been criticized for early ties to former president Charles Taylor, who was accused of crimes against humanity. Gbowee is the head of Liberia's Women for Peace movement — according to the Times, the Nobel committee praised her for her work organizing women against war and ensuring their participation in elections. Karman heads a group called Women Journalists Without Chains, and many credit her arrest in January with starting Yemen's ongoing protests — some call her "The Mother of Revolution."
This year's Peace Prize appears to be a statement of support for women's rights — the head of the Nobel committee said, "We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society." Johnson Sirleaf (who, interestingly, is the aunt of Parks and Recreation actress Retta) said in a 2009 interview with the Times, Johnson Sirleaf said of her presidency, "People didn't think it would happen in Liberia because we are a poor, war-torn country that they thought required a man and a macho person — but the women showed differently, and I must say that I hope we're proving them wrong." This year's prize is a testament to the fact that women around the world are not just victims in need of protection, but also leaders working for peace.