Her activism is all the more unusual because it is happening in patriarchal, deeply conservative Yemen, where women face restrictions and are often treated violently. Their courtroom testimonies, for example, are worth half those of men. Many young women on Friday said Karman had motivated them to leave their homes and take to the streets.
“The head of every Yemeni woman is raised high in pride,” said Hajar al-Hizyazi, 18, who recently graduated from high school.
Johnson Sirleaf has been involved in Liberian politics for more than 30 years. A Harvard-trained economist, she was briefly the country’s finance minister in 1979. As president, she worked fervently to promote development in Liberia and the rights of women and girls.
“We are now going into our ninth year of peace, and every Liberian has contributed to it,” Johnson Sirleaf told reporters at her home in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, on Friday. “We particularly give this credit to Liberian women, who have consistently led the struggle for peace, even under conditions of neglect.”
The prize announcement dropped right into the last days of an intensely polarized presidential campaign in Liberia. Supporters of Johnson Sirleaf cheered the news, but the opposition condemned it.
Asked by reporters after the announcement whether the Nobel committee was interfering in politics, Jagland said the committee’s decision had nothing to do with the upcoming election or Liberia’s domestic affairs.
Although she persuaded creditors around the world to forgive $4 billion in debts last year and has attracted foreign investment to the country, Liberia remains mired in crippling poverty, with unemployment at around 50 percent.
“Many people are saying that the achievements that she has boasted of outside of the country have not transferred into people's everyday lives,” said Othello Garblah, editor of the New Dawn, a newspaper in Monrovia. “They don’t see it, they don’t feel it. But people have lived for six years and have not heard a gunshot.”
Gbowee, the other Liberian laureate, organized Muslim and Christian women who, wearing white T-shirts, demonstrated together in large numbers. They were instrumental in bringing an end to Liberia’s civil war in 2003. Now living in Ghana, Gbowee heads the Women Peace and Security Network Africa.
“I’m shocked, I’m numb, I’m still really feeling like it’s all a dream to me,” said Gbowee, speaking by telephone from New York, where she is on a book tour. “There is no way we can negotiate peace and security if we leave out the women of the world.”
Campaigners for women’s political rights in West Africa say the role of women in Liberia sparked a continent-wide movement.
“Liberia created a kind of domino effect, where women saw that we can really do something,” said Thelma Ekiyor, who heads the T.Y. Danjuma Foundation, a Nigerian grantmaking organization, and has worked with Gbowee. Women in Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe, inspired in part by what happened in Liberia, have put pressure on their governments, she said.
But Gbowee said many challenges remain in Liberia and around the world, including reproductive rights and rape.
“But there’s acknowledgment now,” she said. “We can only succeed.”
Special correspondent Ali Almujahed in Sanaa and staff writer Debbi Wilgoren in Washington contributed to this report.