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Nobel Peace Prize highlights role of women in achieving peace, democracy

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a trio of women's rights activists: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen.

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Yemeni activist: "I dedicate it to all the martyrs of the Arab Spring"

The wave of protests and demonstrations across the Middle East and North Africa, sometimes referred to also as the Arab Awakening, was sparked by protests in Tunisia in December 2010, and quickly spread to Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, and Yemen, among others.

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“[Ms. Karman] has become a symbol of the upheavals that are now taking place in large parts of the Arab world,” said Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s prime minister.

Indeed, Karman accepted her prize on behalf of all the uprisings.

"I'm so happy with the news of this prize," she told BBC Arabic. "I dedicate it to all the martyrs and wounded of the Arab Spring… in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria and to all the free people who are fighting for their rights and freedoms."

Only 15 percent of Nobel peace laureates have been women

The award sets a historic precedent by going to three women for the first time. In the history of the prize, only 12 out of the 97 individuals who have received the prize were women.

But Geir Lundestad, Norwegian Nobel Institute director, says the committee did not feel pressured to find a female candidate this year, despite the dearth of winners in past years and the recent death of the last female winner of the prize, Wangari Maathai.

“The committee has had a long-term interest in finding more women,” says Mr. Lundestad. “But this cannot be artificial. You have to come up with the right candidates. But there was obviously a desire to increase the number of women. And we have taken a big step this year, so now there are 15 women.”

Committee chairman Jagland dismissed suggestions that the prize could have a direct effect on the Liberian general elections next week by promoting Mrs. Sirleaf, who is running for reelection on Oct. 11 as the Unity Party's presidential candidate.

“The committee has time and again represented that it does not look at domestic politics,” he says. “We only do look at those persons who have done most for the peace in the world according to Alfred Nobel’s will.”

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