The XX Factor

Who Is Tawakkol Karman? 

Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman (C) joins a protest calling for the ouster of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh

Photo by GAMAL NOMAN/AFP/Getty Images

The Nobel Prize committee announced today that this year’s peace prize would be split between three women. The most notable is the current president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is the first freely elected female leader in Africa. The second is a Liberian activist, Leymah Gbowee, known for organizing women in the Liberian civil war against warlords. And the third is Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman, a 32-year-old journalist and activist famed for her participation in the Arab Spring. She has dedicated her prize to activists across the regional movement.  

In Yemen, Karman is known to many activists as the Mother of the Revolution. Since the Tunisian revolt in January of this year, she has been pushing for similar change in her home country. Karman has received many threats from operatives of the government, including, according to an NPR report back in August, this frightening one: “They will kill me and they will kidnap my children and throw them from the mountain.”

Karman has been in and out of jail for her work over the past nine months; when she’s free, she lives in an encampment in the capital of Yemen called “Change Square.” Her movement has spread around Yemen, despite significant pushback from the regime: On March 18, security forces fired into her group, killing many civilians. Karman was only driven to continue her fight.

However, despite her efforts, the government still maintains power. The president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has promised multiple times to transition out of office, only to renege. Karman has called on the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to push harder for a transition. In the meantime, she and her fellow activists have set up their own transitional government, which has not yet been recognized by the international community.

Only 12 women (before these three) have been the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize since its inception in 1901.

For an excellent profile on Karman, listen here.