Speakers discuss African women who won Nobel Peace Prize

During the month of March, Eastern Michigan University hosted several events to celebrate Women’s History Month. One of the last events EMU hosted, held at Pray-Harrold Monday afternoon, was one that offered a glimpse of African women who have won the honorable Nobel Peace Prize.

Eastern instructor, Joseph Engwenyu, told the audience about the first African woman ever to receive the honor; Wangari Muta Maathai. Maathai, who hailed from Kenya, won the award in 2004 for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”

“She was one of the most powerful individuals from what she endured,” Engwenyu said. “Very pioneering in everything she’d done.”

Maathai studied abroad and obtained a Ph.D in veterinary anatomy.

He also said Maathai worked her way through uncharted territories to campaign for women’s rights and was very opposed to the authoritarianism going on throughout the country.

Maathai became assistant minister in the Ministry of Environmental and Natural Resources. She went on to promote the Green Belt Movement, which promoted the planting of trees and conservation of the environment. She was active in the National Council of Women of Kenya in
1976-87 and was its chairman in 1981 to 1987.

Even the Kenyan president at the time said that Maathai was, “not traditional, not a proper woman.”

She died in 2011 from complications with ovarian cancer.

Presenter Jesse James discussed the life of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Sirleaf is also known as the “The Iron Lady” of Liberia. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

He began by discussing Liberia’s years of warfare and displacement, and how this had a connection with the rise of power brought forth by the Liberian women.

In November 2005, Sirleaf became the first female president in the sub-Saharan African region.

“She helped to restore freedom and peace in the country,” James said.

People described Sirleaf as “hardworking, honest and smart,” which also made her a good politician for the populace. She paved the way for debt reduction and the rebuilding of communities.

“She was a global leader for women’s empowerment,” James said.

Presenter Lucia Yallah introduced Liberian Leymah Roberta Gbowee, who also won the prize in 2011.

Yallah said that Gbowee brought the country peace and stability, amid years of terror, murder and widespread rape. She helped to bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

“For those of us in Liberia,” Yallah – also a Libyan – said. “It was unbelievable.”

Yallah said in 2003, a group of women came together to protest the violence inflicted by the government of Liberia, and was led by Gbowee. By the summer of 2002, Gbowee was recognized as the spokeswoman and inspirational leader of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace.

“They were tired of the atrocities,” Yallah said of the women. “They had no weapons – all they had was their courage, their zeal for peace.”

The fourth presenter, Tabatha Keller, spoke about the use of rape as a weapon of war.

“Mine is probably the most depressing,” Keller said of her discussion regarding the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“There have been on-going wars, with 23 different armed groups, nine countries and 7 million people have died,” she said. “There is barely any media about the conflict. Kim Kardashian’s butt has more coverage.”

The ages of rape victims have varied from 10 months to 98 years old. Some are even sold as sex slaves, and the children are raped, killed or both.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. No one is exempt,” Keller said.

With rape, health issues can ensue, married women are disowned and virgins cannot marry because they are considered contaminated.

“They’re thrown away by their loved ones,” Keller said.

Denis Muhwege and Rebecca Masika Katsuva are both currently in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Muhwege treats women in the Congo after they have been sexually assaulted.

Some women will walk for miles just to have him be their caretaker. He treats them in the physical and psychological sense, but is much underfunded and cannot very well look after them all.

Katsuva, a rape victim from the Congo, “collects” rape victims and provides them with menial labor.
There is also a village that is solely occupied by women who have been assaulted, and they are taught other labor skills and given educational opportunities.

“The United States barely recognizes the issues although resolutions have been presented to Congress,” Keller said. “Spread the word about this issue.”

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