Award ceremony speech

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Presentation Speech by Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, 10 December 2011.

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Laureates, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman:

Ever since the Norwegian Nobel Committee made this year’s decision known, the people of Norway have looked forward to seeing you on this stage. All those with empathy for children and women who are ill-treated and killed, all those who believe in a future free from violence and war, will acclaim you today out of respect for the will to act that you represent.

You give concrete meaning to the Chinese proverb which says that “women hold up half the sky”. That was why, when giving its reasons for this year’s award, the Nobel Committee stated that “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women acquire the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society”.

We thank you for the hope you awaken in us all.

And we congratulate you on this year’s Peace Prize.

Men and women have at all times experienced war in different ways. Although women, too, have fought in wars through the centuries, and today even engage in terrorism, it is the men who to a far greater extent have engaged in the actual warfare. In modern wars the majority of the victims are often civilian, and very many of them are women and children.

Rape has always been one of the horrors of war. But in recent years, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Darfur, in Rwanda, and in Congo, among many other places, we have seen rape working not just as a massive violation in itself. Rape has become part of the tactics of war. The aim is to break down the enemy’s morale, to force populations to move, and to punish opponents also after the war is over.

This was defined as a crime against humanity and as war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia . The International Criminal Court (ICC) has since reached the same conclusion.

Popular opinion in favour of this view must be strengthened, and that is what we are doing here today.

We are doing so by attracting renewed attention to the resolution adopted in October 2000 by the UN Security Council, Resolution 1325. The resolution for the first time made violence against women in wartime an international security issue. It underlined the need to have women become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general. Women had to break out of their roles as victims; they must themselves become players who will contribute to creating peace. These goals were then hammered out further in four new Security Council resolutions, 1820, 1888, 1889 and 1960.These resolutions must be given prominent and visible places on the desks of all heads of state.

For there is still a long way to go before the goals of these resolutions are reached. In recent peace negotiations in various parts of the world which are surveyed, fewer than 8 per cent of the participants in the negotiations and fewer than 3 per cent of the peace agreement signatories were women. No woman has ever been appointed chief negotiator in any peace negotiations led by the UN.

Meanwhile the rapes continue, thousands of them, day after day.

The situation of women is difficult in many parts of the world. When a little progress is made, it is often men who benefit most.

A brief illustration: Bicycles have in recent years made their entry in rural districts in many poor countries. The women, who often both till the soil, carry goods to market, and see that the children get to school, rarely get to use the bicycle. It is for the male member of the family. Far too often, he uses it to visit the local bar, and now he can also get to the bars in the neighbouring villages. As so many have pointed out, help for women is help for the family; help for men is unfortunately far too often only help to them alone. Investment in girls’ education is probably the best investment any developing country can make.

But luckily women are not only victims. Some take action.

Three of them are today receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s whole life can be seen as a realization of the intentions of Resolution 1325. In 1980 she went into exile after having been imprisoned and threatened with rape. For several years she served as Director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa. She was one of seven eminent persons who investigated the genocide in Rwanda on behalf of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). When the civil war broke out in Liberia in 1989, Johnson Sirleaf first supported Charles Taylor in the hope that he might represent a solution, but gradually dissociated herself from him, and ran against Taylor, unsuccessfully, in the presidential election in 1997. In the election in 2005, however, Johnson Sirleaf won a convincing victory, which made her the first democratically elected female head of state on the African continent.

Liberia remains one of the poorest countries in the world, and faces huge problems, but much progress has nevertheless been made since Johnson Sirleaf was installed as President in 2006. The civil war is over; democracy is working; there has been considerable economic growth; the very widespread corruption has been somewhat reduced; women’s education and participation in social life has been significantly strengthened; the monstrous number of rapes has diminished.

Few other persons better satisfy the criteria for receiving the Peace Prize mentioned in Alfred Nobel’s will.


The same applies to Leymah Gbowee. She is the trauma specialist who switched from treating war victims to working for peace. In 2002, she mobilized a network of over 2,000 women in 15 provinces in Liberia to protest against the war and the violence. They dressed in white and took their stand near Monrovia’s fish market. It was very important that Gbowee managed to unite women with quite different religious and ethnic backgrounds in this struggle. During the peace negotiations in Ghana, the women in frustration shut the male negotiators in and threatened to strip themselves naked, something which in that country would have brought utter disgrace on the men.

As we know, they were able to keep their clothes on. A peace agreement was reached.

Gbowee’s work inspired many women to engage in a non-violent struggle against war and violence and for women’s rights. As a network-builder, she took the initiative in forming the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), which focused not only on Liberia but also on other parts of West Africa.

Gbowee currently heads the Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN), headquartered in Accra in Ghana. We hope this year’s prize will help to strengthen this network.


Yemen is the country in the world which has made the least progress where women’s rights are concerned. In her home, Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman keeps pictures of her heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Hillary Clinton. Many years before the Arab Spring in 2011, she was a youth and female activist. She became a journalist and founded the organization Women Journalists Without Chains. She organized peaceful sit-ins and information campaigns; she trained other women to take part in this struggle.

In a country where the vast majority of women wear niqabs, Tawakkol Karman changed to the hijab. She is at the same time a member of an Islamic party.

In 2011 she was one of the leaders of the demonstrations on Change Square in Sana. She was imprisoned and exposed to serious threats, but nothing stopped her. Day in and day out, she has campaigned against President Ali Abdullah Saleh and for democracy, women’s rights, and tolerance. She advocates understanding between Shias and Sunnis and between Islam and other religions.

The promising Arab Spring will become a new winter if women are again left out. The visible as well as the invisible and indirect violence to them must cease. Women must be fully accepted in all sectors of community life. In her own way of life and struggle, Karman has shown that Islam presents no obstacle to this. On the contrary, Islam must be part of the solution. Only then will there be democracy and peaceful development in this part of the world. That will mean greater security for all of us.

What Karman has achieved in a short space of time is incredible. As a 32-year-old, she is the youngest laureate in the history of the Peace Prize.

Her struggle is our struggle. Congratulations and good luck for the future!

The leaders in Yemen and Syria who murder their people to retain their own power should take note of the following: mankind’s fight for freedom and human rights never stops. No dictator can in the long run find shelter from this wind of history. It was this wind which led people to crawl up onto the Berlin Wall and tear it down. It is the wind that is now blowing in the Arab world. Not even President Saleh was able and President Assad in Syria will not be able to resist the people’s demand for freedom and human rights.

As we have with us today two strong women from Liberia – the country that was built by slaves who had the opportunity to return to Africa, and since we have an equally strong woman from a country, Yemen, where the women are at present demanding freedom, I shall conclude with a quotation from the American author and civil rights advocate James Baldwin, who wrote:

“The people that once walked in darkness are no longer prepared to do so.”

Make a note of that! – all those who wish to be on the right side of history.

We congratulate this year’s winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. You represent one of the most important motive forces for change in today’s world, the struggle for human rights in general and the struggle of women for equality and peace in particular.

Thank you for your attention.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2011

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