“We the women of Liberia will no more allow ourselves to be raped, abused, misused, maimed, and killed!” If these words are an indication of the ferocity with which Leymah Gbowee fights for human rights, it is little wonder she was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. She and compatriot/co-recipient, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, though differing in their approach, remain united in their opposition to those who prey on women and girls.
Tawakkul Karman of Yemen was the third recipient of this year’s prize. The Nobel Prize Committee recognized all three women for their bravery in the fight for women’s rights, as well as a key element in the efforts to attain peace in the world.
Their collective fight is not a new one: the history of crimes against women dates back to Roman times, with the Rape of the Sabine Women. (Interestingly, this historical abduction was the basis of the Hollywood hit, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” And, in the Middle Ages, theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas did indeed acknowledge that rape was a sin. However, even more sinful he posited were masturbation and coitus interruptus, because they prevented the true purpose of sex, to conceive more children. Rape, on the other hand, allowed that purpose to be attained.
No matter the country, though, and no matter the historical era, equality among the races on earth depends on women’s rights within the broader context of human rights. Despite a shameful history of race relations in America, for example, black men earned the right to vote in 1869. For women, of all colors, that right was not earned until a half-century later, with the passage of the 19th Amendment.
The Nobel committee, by design, helped improve relations within and between races with their award. Just as Tawakul Karman, is often described, as an activist thorn in the side of Yemen’s president, so will all those who fight for human rights remain thorny until the rose of peace has finally bloomed.