Yemeni journalist and activist Tawakel Karman (above) won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize “for [her] non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights [and] full participation in peace-building work.” She shares the award with Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee for their equally deserved work on women’s rights.
Karman is the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman,and the second Muslim woman to win a Nobel Prize and the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate to date. She is also possibly the first Nobel Peace Laureate to win through her advocacy of digital activism. At the age of 32, Karman’s activism has not only made an impact on the Arab Spring, but she may have also set the tone for how journalists can support free speech.
In 2005 Karman co-founded Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC) to help protect the rights of other Yemeni women journalists. She has been a target of the Yemeni government because of her refusal to accept the Ministry of Information’s rejection of WJWC’s application to legally create a newspaper and a radio station. In 2007 her organization began supporting text messaging news services, which had been tightly controlled by Yemen’s Press Law of 1990.
WJWC released a report in 2007 that documented Yemeni abuses of press freedom since 2005. In 2009, she criticised the Yemeni government for harassing journalists. Since 2007 Karman has set up a tent and led weekly demonstrations in Sana’a (sounds like the first Occupy site?!). She played an instrumental role in the Yemeni uprising, which called for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign. After much protesting, Saleh signed an agreement in November that called for him to relinquish office by early next year.
The case in Yemen should remind us all to not take our liberties for granted, and to be a strong advocate for those who don’t have those same liberties. For that, we congratulate Tawakel Karman for her digital activism.