Mairead Maguire was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her extraordinary actions to end the sectarian violence in her native Northern Ireland. She shares the award with Betty Williams.
Mairead was the aunt of the three children who died as a result of being hit by an Irish Republican Army getaway car after its driver was shot by a British soldier. Mairead responded to the violence facing her family and community by organizing, with Betty Williams, massive peace demonstrations appealing for an end to the bloodshed.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 in recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation work based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples in her native Guatemala. She is the first indigenous person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Rigoberta was born in 1959 to a poor Indian family in the highlands of Guatemala. Like many other countries in the Americas, Guatemala has experienced great tension between the descendants of European immigrants and the native Indian population. The Menchú family experienced extreme hardship as a result of their Mayan background.
Jody Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban landmines through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which shared the Peace Prize with her that year. At that time, she became the 10th woman – and third American woman—in its almost 100-year history to receive the Prize. Since her protests of the Vietnam War, she has been a life-long advocate of freedom, self-determination and human and civil rights.
Like others who’ve seen the ravages of war, she’s an outspoken peace activist who struggles to reclaim the real meaning of peace—a concept which goes far beyond the absence of armed conflict and is defined by human security, not national security. Williams believes that working for peace is not for the faint of heart. It requires dogged persistence and a commitment to sustainable peace, built on sustainable development, environmental justice and security, and meeting the basic needs of the majority of people on our planet.
Shirin Ebadi, J.D., was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote human rights, in particular, the rights of women, children, and political prisoners in Iran. She is the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and only the fifth Muslim to receive a Nobel Prize in any field.
Dr. Ebadi was one of the first female judges in Iran. She served as president of the city court of Tehran from 1975 to 1979 and was the first Iranian woman to achieve Chief Justice status. She, along with other women judges, was dismissed from that position after the Islamic Revolution in February 1979. She was made a clerk in the court she had once presided over, until she petitioned for early retirement. After obtaining her lawyer’s license in 1992, Dr. Ebadi set up private practice. As a lawyer, Dr. Ebadi has taken on many controversial cases defending political dissidents and as a result has been arrested numerous times.
Leymah Gbowee is an inspiring Liberian activist specializing in peacebuilding and women’s rights. After her country erupted in civil war in 1989, Leymah took action by training as a trauma counselor to treat former child soldiers. The war ended in 1996 only to be followed by a second civil war in 1999.
Tired of witnessing violence and brutality, Leymah mobilized women across religious and ethnic divides in the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement. Her fearless efforts were successful in forcing warlord President Charles Taylor into exile and paving the way for the election of Africa’s first female head of state, fellow Peace Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The two share the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with co-recipient, Tawakkol Karman of Yemen.
Tawakkol Karman is an inspirational peace activist in her native Yemen and the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize recipient at the age of 32. In 2005, she founded the organization Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC) to advocate for rights and freedoms of the press and to report on injustice in Yemen.
Shortly after founding WJWC, Tawakkol began organizing large-scale protests to bring an end to violence and human rights violations in her country. Her weekly protests targeted systematic government repression and called for inquiries into corruption. When the Arab Spring swept over North Africa and Western Asia, Tawakkol redirected her supporters and brought the Spring to Yemen. Her persistence and bold, outspoken nature resulted in Yemen’s President Ali-Abdullah Saleh resigning in 2011.
Dr. Wangari Muta Maathai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her actions to promote sustainable development, democracy and peace and was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She passed away in September of 2011.
The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Professor Maathai was an active member of the National Council of Women of Kenya from 1976 to 1987 and served as its chairman from 1981 to 1987. In 1976 she introduced the idea of community-based tree planting. She continued to develop this idea into a broad-based grassroots organization whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting. The organization eventually became known as the Green Belt Movement (GBM), and to-date has assisted women in planting more than 40 million trees on community lands including farms, schools and church compounds.
“The Nobel Peace Prize is not awarded for what one has done, but hopefully what one will do.” These are the words of Betty Williams, who in 1976 along with Mairead Maguire, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to end the sectarian violence in her native Northern Ireland.
Williams was one of the six founding members of the Nobel Women’s Initiative in 2006 (with Mairead Maguire, Jody Williams, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Shirin Ebadi, and Wangari Maathai). She currently heads the World Centers of Compassion for Children International, which was founded in 1997 in honour of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The organization is headquartered in the Republic of Ireland, and is building the first City of Compassion for children in the Basilicata Region of southern Italy. Williams left the Nobel Women’s Initiative in 2011 in order to devote more time to her work there.