Female Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

A new episode of the #girlpower series

The articles about inspirational women (here and here) gained much popularity and positive feedback. It, of course, makes me very happy but also motivates and inspires to give even more space here to great women who act despite fear, stereotypes and who build a better world for all of us.

Therefore, I want to combine the topics of female role-models and the popularisation of diplomacy, the main purpose of this blog. This time I want to introduce you to a great number of great females who have been acknowledged by the Norwegian Nobel Committee and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their “outstanding contributions in peace” 13 times up to date. Lucky Thirteen!

I am pretty sure you do not know each and every one of these heroines. They are worth your time, hands down.

Bertha von Suttner from Austria-Hungary (1905) – “for writing “Lay Down Your Arms” and contributing to the creation of the Prize”. She can be named one of the founders of the peace, anti-war movement on a global level. Her book, originally titled “Die Waffen nieder” has been and remains inspirational for peace activists. She set up the Austrian Peace Society and worked across the borders, no matter the heavily male-dominated politics of the time. A very good friend of Alfred Nobel. She has for years corresponded with him and influenced the process of setting up the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jane Addams from the United States (1931) – “for her social reform work and leading the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom”. Jane Addams was also a lifelong, devoted peace and disarmament campaigner (she sometimes cooperated on the issue with Emily Greene Balch – see below). She also stood by children and demanded employers to stop using youngsters as industrial workers. During WW1 she organised and led a women’s international conference in the Hague. She also established the Hull House in Chicago – an institution helping immigrants, now a museum. The first woman with an honoris causa doctorate from Yale University.

Emily Greene Balch from the United States (1946) – “formerly Professor of History and Sociology, Honorary International President, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom”. John Raleigh Mott, chairman of the International Missionary Council and the President of the World Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Associations was also awarded that year. Emily Greene Balch had been engaged in disarmament and peace activism for years and sometimes was perceived as a radical (she campaigned broadly i.e. against the involvement of the U.S. in WW1). Her lifelong social activism on behalf of women, minorities, workers and immigrants brought her the Nobel Peace Prize though.

Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan from the United Kingdom (1976) – “founders of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement (later renamed Community of Peace People)”. The Peace People were founded to ease tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland whilst the horrific conflict. It was a grass-roots, anti-violence movement, working in local groups and organising protest marches of thousands of people. It was set up by Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan after three children were killed in a meaningless shooting in Belfast. Williams was a witness of the tragedy and Corrigan was the aunt of the children.

Mother Teresa from India but born in Skopje (real name: Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, 1979) – “founder of Missionaries of Charity”. This new and genuine sisterhood was founded in Calcutta and focused on helping orphans as well as terminally ill people. Mother Teresa has led the Missionaries of Charity hospices for some 45 years. The sisterhood has operated in more than 120 countries. There were some controversies about Mother Teresa – it was said that she constantly denied pain relief to her suffering patients and did not stick to the standards of medical care. In 2016 she was canonised by Pope Francis.

Alva Myrdal from Sweden (1982) – “together with Alfonso Garcia Robles from Mexico for their magnificent work in the disarmament negotiations of the UN, where they have both played crucial roles and won international recognition”. It took a lot of guts to campaign and negotiate with superpowers on disarmament and nuke-free zones in the times of the Cold War, but Alva Myrdal, the Swedish diplomat, stoop up to the task. She, for instance, led the Swedish delegation to disarmament negotiations in Geneva (1962-1970) and serve as the minister for disarmament (1966-1973).

Aung San Suu Kyi from Burma (now Myanmar, 1991) – “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights”. She was the leader of the opposition to the military junta in Burma, she also co-founded the National League for Democracy, campaigning for a peaceful, non-violent change of government and the creation of a democratic state and united society in Burma. She remained for years in a home arrest but never gave up. Now she is the prime minister of Myanmar and is challenged by the not yet fulfilled task of creating a united society – the situation of the Rohingya people is tragic.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum from Guatemala (1992) – “for her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples”. Guatemala was for years torn by war, whilst human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples, were broken and threatened. Rigoberta Menchú, whose both parents and a brother were killed by soldiers, has long campaigned for the cease-fire and settlement of the conflict between the political leadership and the guerrilla organisations. It was eventually signed in 1996. She has become the UN Ambassador for the world’s indigenous peoples. She belongs to the Quiché tribe. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on the 500th anniversary of “the arrival” of Columbus to America.

Jody Williams from the United States (1997) – together with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) from Switzerland “for their work for the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines”. She became involved in the anti-landmines movement in the 1980s while working in El Salvador with a responsibility to provide adults and children with prostheses for limbs they lost through landmines. She was an aid worker also in Nicaragua and Honduras. Together with the ICBL she campaigned for the Ottawa Convention banning landmines in 120 countries that signed it down.

Shirin Ebadi from Iran (2003) – “for her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children”. The first female judge in Iran, dismissed after the revolution. Since then she has become a lawyer, defending, among others, oppositionists. She was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison but freed after the public opinion’s protests. For years she has campaigned for changes in the succession and divorce laws that would bring more justice to women. She is a university teacher and a publicist, living in exile in the UK.

Wangari Muta Maathai from Kenya (2004) – “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”. A biologist (first ever female PhD holder from East and Central Africa), campaigning for years against the deforestation and for the sustainable agriculture in Africa. She introduced the Green Belt Movement, aiming at planting trees across African countries. Women played a huge role in these endeavours – as they usually do in agriculture – and proved their solidarity and engagement on both local and global levels.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee – both from Liberia, Tawakkol Karman from Yemen (2011) – “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf served as the president of Liberia 2006-2018, she was elected as the first female president of an African country. As a representative designated by the Organisation of African Unity she investigated the genocide in Rwanda, and as representative of UNIFEM she investigated the impact of conflicts on women. She has 4 children. Leymah Gbowee, with the women’s peace movement (representing diverse social and religious groups) she led, has heavily contributed to ending the bloody civil war in Liberia in 2002. She has six children. Tawakkol Karman is the founder of Women Journalists Without Chains, a group campaigning for the freedom of speech in Yemen, and a globally known activist for women’s rights. She has three children.

Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan (2014) together with Kailash Satyarthi from India “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”. Malala is the youngest Nobel Prize Laureate and a worldwide known activist campaigning not only for education for all children but also for the rights of girls and for the improvement of the situation of refugees. I presented her broadly in part I of “Women Who Inspire” series.

Nadia Murad from Iraq, together with Denis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of Congo (2018) – whenever I think of both the laureates , I always feel unease, sad, frustrated and terrified that such stories happen in this world. In fact, I just want to shout out: no, Louis Armstrong, you were terribly wrong to sing “What a Wonderful World”. Nadia Murad comes from the Yazidi minority of northern Iraq. In 2014, following the so-called Islamic State’s attack on her region, many people were killed and numerous young women and girls were abducted and held as sex slaves (sexual violence was an element of the war strategy of the IS). Nadia Murad was among them. She was repeatedly beaten and raped but fortunately managed to fless after 3,5 months and survive. After – in a way – recovering from her injuries, she started speaking openly about her tragic experiences, speaking up against human trafficking and advocating for the dignity of human trafficking victims. Denis Mukwege is an M.D. helping the victims of sexual war crimes in the DRC and runs the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu since 1999.

I used first and foremost materials from the official website of the Nobel Prize to write this post: https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/

I hope to expand and update this article soon with some new laureates 🙂

This article is a part of the #girlpower series that includes also:

Podcast #1 Women Who Inspire – Nerds

Podcast #2 Women empowerment

Where to search for data about women?

Women who inspire – part I

Women who inspire – part II

Women who inspire – part III

Women Who Inspire – part IV

Women in political science


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