Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee used different tactics to confront thugs and killers in war-ravaged Liberia.
One challenged a feared warlord for the presidency and the other took to the streets to denounce armed rapists who were preying on women.
Yesterday, they were recognised with the Nobel Peace Prize, which they shared with democratic activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen, a journalist who heads the group Women Journalists Without Chains that she created in 2005 and became a leading figure during this year’s Arab Spring, organising protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his government.
The prize committee in Oslo, Norway, cited their work on women’s rights, describing it as fundamental to the spread of peace around the world.
“This gives me a stronger commitment to work for reconciliation,” Sirleaf said from her home in the capital, Monrovia, after hearing of the award. “Liberians should be proud.”
Sirleaf, 72, became Africa’s first democratically elected female president in 2005, after earlier losing to warlord Charles Taylor in 1997 elections. She is running for a second term on Tuesday.
While Sirleaf has led in the political arena, Gbowee often took to the streets leading a group known as the “women in white.”
Gbowee’s assistant, Bertha Amanor, described her as a “warrior daring to enter where others would not dare”.
That was evident on a November day in 2003 when Gbowee, three months after a peace deal ended civil war, led hundreds of female protesters through the battle-scarred capital to City Hall, demanding swift disarmament of fighters who were raping women and girls.
“We, the women of Liberia, will no more allow ourselves to be raped, abused, misused, maimed and killed,” she shouted.
“Our children and grandchildren will not be used as killing machines and sex slaves!”
Gbowee works in Ghana’s capital as the director of Women Peace and Security Network Africa.