These extraordinary women are being awarded for "their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work.” IFES knows from experience that democracy cannot be achieved without equal participation of women and the determination of activists to demand human rights through peaceful avenues. We praise the efforts of the awardees in these areas.
IFES has been privileged to work closely with Karman on voter education efforts in Yemen and to have met President Johnson Sirleaf through our work with the National Election Commission (NEC) of Liberia.
In Yemen, IFES worked with Karman in the lead to the 2006 presidential and local election. Nermin Nisic, now a Chief of Party in Georgia, led IFES’ design and implementation of a face-to-face voter education campaign funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
As head of Women Journalists Without Chains, Karman helped IFES reach out to women, and other underrepresented groups. She and her peers encouraged their fellow citizens to take an active role in the elections as they spread the word about equality, participation and democracy in remote regions of Yemen.
“IFES is thrilled by the news of Tawakul Karman’s shared Nobel Peace Prize,” Zeinab Abdelkarim, Director of IFES’ Middle East and North Africa division said. “Karman has long been an inspiring and dedicated figure in Yemen’s reform movement; we feel honored to have worked with her when she participated in IFES’ professional development course aimed at enhancing civil society’s capacity to run effective voter education campaigns, and subsequently, when her organization, Women Journalists Without Chains, was among the NGOs that ran IFES’ pilot face-to-face voter education program the same year. We congratulate Karman on this award which further sheds light on the political challenges Yemen faces in the upcoming months as it moves towards reform,” She added.
“Through her own example, Karman was continuously showing the important role women can play, even in a traditional society like Yemen’s. She often paid the price along the way,” Nisic said.
IFES has a rich experience in Liberia, where it has worked over the past 15 years to support democracy and elections, including the landmark 2005 elections, which set the country on a path toward stability and development. IFES’ current program aims to increase the capacity of the NEC to manage elections. Through this work, IFES staff members have had the opportunity to meet with President Johnson Sirleaf and learn about her vision for democracy.
Bill Sweeney, IFES President and CEO, fondly remembers his first meeting with President Johnson Sirleaf in Monrovia.
“From the moment the meeting began, it was evident the President had a vision of what democracy meant for Liberia's future and how elections are critical to the fulfillment of her ambitions for her country,” Sweeney said. “She told us exactly what she expected of the National Election Commission, and the value of our team's contribution to the success of the election process. Her thoughtful engagement to democratic elections as part of the process to her country's future made a lasting impression on me.”
The acknowledgement of these activists’ efforts to improve their societies and, by extension, the world, is welcome. Their work stands on its own merit regardless of their gender. Yet, the fact that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to three women for the first time since 2004, when Kenya’s Wangari Maathai was laureate, is a welcome reminder that women are powerful advocates for human rights.