Tawakkul Karman, is a Yemeni women’s rights activist who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her role in leading a pro-democracy protest movement, becoming the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman and the second Muslim woman to win a Nobel Prize. She leads the group “Women Journalists Without Chains”, which she co-founded in 2005. She became the international public face of the 2011 Yemeni uprising that is part of the Arab Spring uprisings. In 2011, she was reportedly called the “Iron Woman” and “Mother of the Revolution” in Yemen.
Tawakkul Karman was born on the 7th of February 1979, in Taʿizz, Yemen. Her family was politically active in Taʿizz, as her father was a lawyer. Because of her father’s work Karman and her family moved to Sanaa, where Karman’s father served as minister of legal affairs before resigning in 1994 over the government’s war against secessionists in southern Yemen. She graduated from the University of Science and Technology in Sanaa with a degree in commerce in 1999 and later earned a master’s degree in political science.
After completing her education, Karman began a career in journalism, writing articles, producing documentary films, and disseminating news alerts via text messages. When she encountered restrictions and threats from the Yemeni government, Karman and several of her colleagues founded the movement “Women Journalists Without Chains” in 2005 in order to promote human rights, “particularly freedom of opinion and expression, and democratic rights”. The aim of the movement founded by Karman is to advocate for women’s rights, civil rights, and freedom of expression. In 2007 Karman began staging weekly sit-ins in Sanaa to demand a variety of democratic reforms. She continued the practice for several years and was arrested multiple times for her activism. Although Karman was a senior member of the Iṣlāḥ (Reform) party, Yemen’s main Islamist opposition party, she occasionally clashed with the party’s religious conservatives.
She redirected the Yemeni protests to support the “Jasmine Revolution”, as she calls the Arab Spring, on 2011, as a protest movement known as the Arab Spring swept through the Middle East and North Africa, shaking some of the region’s longest-standing governments, Karman was arrested after leading a small protest in Sanaa against the government of president of Yemen, ʿAlī ʿAbd Allāh Ṣāliḥ. Her arrest sparked larger protests, which soon developed into mass demonstrations against the regime. Karman was released the following day and soon became a leader of the movement, helping to set up the protest campsite on the grounds of Sanaa University, where thousands of protesters staged a sit-in that lasted for months. For her role in leading protests, and still while she was camping out outside the Sanaa University campus, Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2011. At age 32, Karman was one of the youngest-ever recipients of the prize. She shared the prize with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, who were also recognized for leading nonviolent campaigns for women’s rights and democratic freedoms. Karman, as well as Sirleaf and Gbowee, were awarded “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”. Of Karman, the Nobel Committee said: “In the most trying circumstances, both before and during the Arab spring, Tawakkul Karman has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen.” The Nobel Committee cited the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, which states that women and children suffer great harm from war and political instability and that women must have a larger influence and role in peacemaking activities; it also “calls on all actors involved, when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, to adopt a gender perspective”.
“The solution to women’s issues can only be achieved in a free and democratic society in which human energy is liberated, the energy of both women and men together. Our civilization is called human civilization and is not attributed only to men or women.”
“Peace does not mean just to stop wars, but also to stop oppression and injustice.”
Written by WAVE Intern Diva Adelaide Edosini