On Friday, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman were awarded their Nobel Peace Prizes. During the ceremony, all three women spoke eloquently about the struggles they'd faced—not just as women, but as people living under oppressive regimes. Given that the prize was shared by the three women, it's no surprise that one of the biggest themes of the day was that real peace cannot be achieved unless women are equal to men at all levels, and it was hit upon by each of the three Nobel Laureates during their remarks. You can see bits of the ceremony above, and what follows are some of the most moving parts of each woman's remarks.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the president of Liberia in 2006 and was the first democratically-elected woman president in Africa. Under her leadership peace and democracy have flourished, there's been positive economic growth, the education of women has improved, as has their participation in society. When accepting her award, Johnson Sirleaf dedicated her prize to women around the world and spoke about where we go from here.
As we celebrate today, we are mindful of the enormous challenges we still face. In too many parts of the world, crimes against women are still under-reported, and the laws protecting women are under-enforced. … Yet, there is occasion for optimism and hope. There are good signs of progress and change. Around the world, slowly, international law and an awareness of human rights are illuminating dark corners, in schools, in courts, in the marketplace.
She continued, encouraging the continued fight for peace.
Today, across the globe, women, and also men, from all walks of life are finding the courage to say, loudly and firmly, in a thousand languages, "No more." They reject mindless violence, and defend the fundamental values of democracy, of open society, of freedom, and of peace. So I urge my sisters, and my brothers, not to be afraid. Be not afraid to denounce injustice, though you may be outnumbered. Be not afraid to seek peace, even if your voice may be small. Be not afraid to demand peace. If I might thus speak to girls and women everywhere, I would issue them this simple invitation: My sisters, my daughters, my friends, find your voices!
I probably speak for everyone that just read that paragraph when I say, "Invitation accepted!"
A women who perfectly exemplifies what can happen when you find voice is the second prize recipient, Leymah Gbowee. Also from Liberia, she is currently the head of Women Peace and Security Network Africa. She's known for bringing together 2,000 women in Liberia to protest against war, violence, and rape. During her speech, she gave a powerful description of her movement's humble beginnings:
Early 2003, seven of us women gathered in a makeshift office/conference room to discuss the Liberian civil war and the fast approaching war on the capital Monrovia. Armed with nothing but our conviction and $10 United States dollars, the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Campaign was born.
Concerned that their fellow women were considered nothing but "toys of war" for the young militias, Gbowee's group took a stand.
We used our pains, broken bodies and scarred emotions to confront the injustices and terror of our nation. … We succeeded when no one thought we would, we were the conscience of the ones who had lost their consciences in their quest for power and political positions. We represented the soul of the nation. No one would have prepared my sisters and I for today - that our struggle would go down in the history of this world. Rather when confronting warlords we did so because we felt it was our moral duty to stand as mothers and gird our waist, to fight the demons of war in order to protect the lives of our children, their land, and their future.
Gbowee also hit on the value of women's rights to all of society.
"We must continue to unite in sisterhood to turn our tears into triumph, our despair into determination and our fear into fortitude. There is no time to rest until our world achieves wholeness and balance, where all men and women are considered equal and free."
Excuse me, I have something in my eye. I am just going to dab this tissue against my face for a minute... OK, moving on.
The prize's third recipient, Tawakkol Karman is an activist in Yemen, where she has long been fighting for democracy and women's rights. She was an integral part of the 2011 uprising against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. At 32-years-old, the impressive Karman is the first Arab woman ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and also the youngest to receive the award.
She repeatedly emphasized the powerful role that youth played in bringing about the change that began during the Arab spring, and, in her remarks, she also called out the international community for not paying as much attention to Yemen's struggles as it did to others in the Arab region: "This should haunt the world's conscience because it challenges the very idea of fairness and justice."
One of the most poignant parts of her speech is when she recounts the oddity of receiving a peace prize in the midst of a brutal crackdown and what it meant for the revolution:
When I heard the news that I had got the Nobel Peace Prize, I was in my tent in the Taghyeer square in Sana'a. I was one of millions of revolutionary youth. There, we were not even able to secure our safety from the repression and oppression of the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh. At that moment, I contemplated the distinction between the meanings of peace celebrated by the Nobel Prize, and the tragedy of the aggression waged by Ali Abdullah Saleh against the forces of peaceful change. However, our joy of being on the right side of history made it easier for us to bear the devastating irony.
Millions of Yemeni women and men, children, young and old took to the streets in eighteen provinces demanding their right to freedom, justice and dignity, using non-violent but effective means to achieve their demands. We were able to efficiently and effectively maintain a peaceful revolution in spite of the fact that this great nation has more than seventy million firearms of various types. … We were very happy because we realized, at that time, that the Nobel Prize did not come only as a personal prize for Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman, but as a declaration and recognition of the whole world for the triumph of the peaceful revolution of Yemen and as an appreciation of the sacrifices of its great peaceful people.
If that's not enough to inspire you for the day, then I don't know what is! If you're in the mood for even more from these accomplished women, you can read their full Nobel lectures here.