In the 110-year history of the Nobel Peace Prize, only 12 women have been honored for their courageous leadership in the struggle for women’s rights. Among them is peace activist and philanthropist, Jane Addams, Mother Teresa, and Wangari Maathai.
On Oct. 7, history was again made when Thorbjorn Jagland, the head of the Nobel committee, announced that three influential women from Africa and the Middle East were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011. Two of the winners were from Liberia: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female president in post-colonial Africa, and the peace activist Leymah Gbowee.
Tawakkol Karman, a prominent female figure in Yemen’s populist uprising this year, was honored for her work to establish a human rights group called “Women Journalists Without Chains,” and her work to galvanize Yemini youth in their ongoing pro-democracy uprising.
The committee’s decision continues to highlight the passion and persistence of women around the world to devote their lives to equality and justice for women. It also draws attention to the suppression of women’s rights around the world.
Such an honor to women in Africa and the Middle East leads one to look here in the Untied States for contemporary champions in the political arena of women’s rights.
In September, I was the keynote speaker for the University of Northern Iowa’s 5th annual “Power of the Purse.” During the event, I had the honor of talking with former Lt. Governor of Iowa, Joy Corning, about her leadership in a 10-year effort culminating in 2020 (the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment) to see women hold half the seats in the Iowa legislature and elect a female governor.
The effort isn’t simply about gender equality, but also to bring a different perspective to public service. From my research, it is evident that women see issues through a different lens, looking for ways to foster more consensus building, with a more pragmatic perspective when it comes to financial matters.
Perhaps there is the making of another Jane Addams on the horizon right here in the good old USA, a cohort of American women seeking parity in politics. Stay tuned.