Nobel Peace Prize diplomas and gold medals were presented on Saturday to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, social worker and peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni journalist and political activist Tawakkol Karman for their fearless, passionate, nonviolent work securing safety and rights for women in their respective countries. But it was onlookers who received the true gift in the acceptance speeches the women gave as they were awarded the coveted prize in Oslo—spirited words that should serve as a blueprint for every African American mother looking to teach her daughters and other young black girls in her life how a combination of intelligence, passion and commitment can change our world.
Today, I share with you some of the women’s inspiring words, and encourage you to share them with your daughters. I certainly intend to discuss them with my Mari and Lila. While these are quotes that stood out to me, each of their speeches are well worth the read; you can find them in their entirety on the Nobel Laureate website.
Sirleaf is the first woman in modern African history to be elected head of state and is widely credited with bringing peace to Liberia after a 14-year civil war. These are her words:
As curtains are raised and as the sun shines upon dark places, what was previously invisible comes into view. Technology has turned our world into one interconnected neighborhood. What happens in one place is seen in every corner, and there has been no better time for the spread of peace, democracy and their attending social justice and fairness for all.
Today, across the globe, women, and also men, from all walks of life are finding the courage to say, loudly and firmly, in a thousand languages, “No more.” They reject mindless violence, and defend the fundamental values of democracy, of open society, of freedom, and of peace.
So I urge my sisters, and my brothers, not to be afraid. Be not afraid to denounce injustice, though you may be outnumbered. Be not afraid to seek peace, even if your voice may be small. Be not afraid to demand peace.
If I might thus speak to girls and women everywhere, I would issue them this simple invitation: My sisters, my daughters, my friends, find your voices!
Each of us has her own voice, and the differences among us are to be celebrated. But our goals are in harmony. They are the pursuit of peace, the pursuit of justice. They are the defense of rights to which all people are entitled.
The founder of the advocacy group Women Journalists Without Chains, Karman has been called “Mother of the Revolution” in Yemen, where she’s been living for months in a protest camp as she demands rights for women. At age 32, she is the youngest Peace Prize laureate and the first Arab woman to receive the award. These are Karman’s words:
I have always believed that resistance against repression and violence is possible without relying on similar repression and violence. I have always believed that human civilization is the fruit of the effort of both women and men. So, when women are treated unjustly and are deprived of their natural right in this process, all social deficiencies and cultural illnesses will be unfolded, and in the end the whole community, men and women, will suffer. 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. In our Arab region, there are brutal wars between governments and peoples. Human conscience cannot be at peace while it sees these young Arab people, who are in the age of blossoming, being harvested by the machine of death which is unleashed against them by the tyrants. The spirit of the Nobel Peace Prize is the spirit of peace, in which today we look forward in support of the aspiration of the Arab peoples for democracy, justice and freedom. If we support this spirit, the spirit of the Nobel Peace Prize, then we will prove to the despots that the ethics of peaceful struggle are stronger than their powerful weapons of repression and war.
Gbowee is the head of Women Peace and Security Network Africa in Ghana. In 2002, with just $10 and endless conviction, she organized several memorable women’s protests in her native Liberia to end unrest there, including a “sex strike” in which she encouraged women to withhold sex from their husbands until the end of the brutal civil war. These are Gbowee’s words:
Women had become the “toy of war” for over-drugged young militias. Sexual abuse and exploitation spared no woman; we were raped and abused regardless of our age, religious or social status. A common scene daily was a mother watching her young one being forcibly recruited or her daughter being taken away as the wife of another drug emboldened fighter.
We used our pains, broken bodies and scarred emotions to confront the injustices and terror of our nation. We were aware that the end of the war will only come through non–violence, as we had all seen that the use of violence was taking us and our beloved country deeper into the abyss of pains, death, and destruction.
We worked daily confronting warlords, meeting with dictators and refusing to be silenced in the face of AK 47 and RPGs. We walked when we had no transportation, we fasted when water was unaffordable, we held hands in the face of danger, we spoke truth to power when everyone else was being diplomatic, we stood under the rain and the sun with our children to tell the world the stories of the other side of the conflict. Our educational backgrounds, travel experiences, faiths, and social classes did not matter. We had a common agenda: Peace for Liberia Now.
We succeeded when no one thought we would, we were the conscience of the ones who had lost their consciences in their quest for power and political positions. We represented the soul of the nation. No one would have prepared my sisters and I for today — that our struggle would go down in the history of this world. Rather when confronting warlords we did so because we felt it was our moral duty to stand as mothers and gird our waist, to fight the demons of war in order to protect the lives of our children, their land, and their future.
I encourage you to read the Nobel Peace Prize speeches in their entirety, sisters. Show your daughters. (And your sons, too!) And tell them the story of three powerful women—Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman—who stood in the face of danger, lifted their voices and made a difference for mothers and children.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.