All-female Nobel peace prize risks being seen as a political move
, the three recipients of the Nobel peace prize, are three remarkable women who have been awarded "for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."
Mere hours after however, there appeared to be some controversy.
Liberian , 72, Africa's first female president, is running for re-election in a matter of days, and is in the midst of a messy election battle in where she has been accused of using government funds to campaign. "Ma Ellen" as she is known, had originally promised to serve only one term but has decided to run again. Her Nobel peace prize has not been received with unquestionable delight in Liberia, where some believe that the west was intent on anointing her as a hero, without consideration for her standing locally, her record in office or how the award might influence the election result.
But defending the decision, , prize committee chairman explained, that "We cannot look to that domestic consideration. We have to look at Alfred Nobel's will, which says that the prize should go to the person that has done the most for peace in the world."
, a Nairobi-based women's rights researcher at is thrilled with the award. She says that "no one is perfect", that politicians will use any ammunition, including the award, against Sirleaf, and that the Nobel committee have made a brave decision.
A less controversial recipient of the award is , the Yemeni political activist who has . A member of an Islamic party and the daughter of one of President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ex-ministers, she is very much part of the fabric of the Yemeni political elite who started her battle by setting up a women's organisation called "Bila Quyud" or "Without Chains". Not a household name of Yemen, at least not before the start of the , Karman has a relatively short but fierce record of political activism. It would seem therefore that she was granted the peace prize in support of the revolution in Yemen, rather than because of any concrete achievements, given that the cruel regime of .
, of the Yemen division of Human Rights Watch said that "the Yemen chapter is not yet finished, the situation is not yet resolved" and hence the decision to grant Karman the Nobel prize is not only for her track record, but in recognition and support for the "current struggle" against Saleh's regime. Unlike for example, who was awarded the prize for her long record of dissidence in 2003. This suggests that the Nobel committee does in fact "look to domestic consideration", despite their claims.
It is interesting that there are two Liberian recipients of the Nobel peace prize. , a women's activist with a long record of campaigning to involve women in politics, is the other Liberian winner. She mobilised women to vote for Sirleaf but is more of a campaigner who strives to influence events by galvanising women, than a political activist. Her sharing of the prize suggests that the Nobel committee wanted it to be seen as one for Liberia's women's movement as a whole. Gbowee also appears to be more popular abroad than she is at home and her international profile certainly lends the award additional integrity, but only outside Liberia.
There are also suggestions that this additional Liberian slot could have been better used to recognise women's struggle in dire circumstances in other places such as Afghanistan. Indeed, the very fact that it was awarded to three women, as opposed to one, suggests that there was a theme established at the outset, that of women's rights and activism, with a nod to the Arab spring, which then dictated the nature and number of recipients.
It is not uncommon for the Nobel peace prize to follow a theme, or be topical, in order to capture a zeitgeist. But there is a difference between trying to capture a hopeful moment () and bringing the considerable influence and prestige of the Nobel prize to bear on a current course of events without much subtlety or discretion.
There is no doubt that these are three outstanding women that have inspired other Arab and African women and it would appear churlish not welcome this decision unreservedly. But with non-posthumous awards, ie those that have been granted to either lend support to a current effort, or recognise a figure in accordance with a theme, there is always the risk that the committee is seen as having an agenda, which discredits both the committee, and, potentially, fully deserving recipients.
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