taking the words of Jesus seriously

I recently received an email from Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo inviting me to attend an exhibit and concert commemorating the life and work of Bertha Von Suttner, the first woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. I have to admit that I’d never heard of her before, and after doing a little research I learned that fourteen other women have received the prize since its inception but other than Mother Teresa, I didn’t recognize any of their names either. I know I should be more knowledgeable about international affairs but I’m guessing I’m not alone in not having a clue about who some of these amazing women are, or the remarkable things they’ve accomplished. In an effort to make amends for my ignorance I’ve compiled a list of the fifteen female peace prize winners, along with some of the history of the prizes themselves.

Nobel prizes have been awarded since 1901 to acknowledge great achievements in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. Six years earlier the foundation had been laid for the awards program in the last will and testament of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist, engineer, entrepreneur, author, pacifist and inventor who somewhat ironically invented dynamite. A total of 126 peace prizes have been awarded so far, and decisions about who qualifies for a prize are now made by the five member Nobel Committee which is appointed by the Norwegian Parliament.

The women awarded peace prizes were from many different countries and had different approaches to working for peace, but what they had in common was a deep desire to make the world a better place and a willingness to sacrifice their personal safety and comfort to achieve their goals. Unfortunately, what they also had in common was being derided and marginalized by people in positions of power – sometimes facing imprisonment and often labeled as unpatriotic radicals.

Related: 5 Women of the Early Church You Should Know

Here’s the list of the fifteen female recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize along with a brief description of why they received the award.

  1. Baroness Bertha Von Suttner – 1905 – Czech Republic / Austria
    Relentlessly fought nationalist fanaticism, aggressive militarism and anti-Semitism. As a writer and lecturer she inspired her friend and benefactor Alfred Nobel to create a peace prize, and became a recipient of that prize in 1905 for her most famous novel Lay Down Your Arms. She was a passionate pacifist who was quoted as saying the prophetic words “The next war will be more horrible than any of its predecessors.”. World War One began less than two months after her death.
  2. Jane Addams – 1931 – USA
    Recognized as a founder of the social work profession.
    Spoke to diplomats and civic leaders advocating women’s special mission to preserve peace.
  3. Emily Greene Balch – 1946 – USA
    Leader of the Women’s International League For Peace and Freedom
    Recognized for her life’s work for disarmament and peace.
  4. Betty Williams – 1976 – Ireland / United Kingdom
    Co-founder of  the Community of Peace People
    Worked for peace in the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
  5. Mairead Corrigan – 1976 –  Ireland / United Kingdom
    Co-founder of the Community of Peace People
    Worked for peace in the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
  6. Mother Teresa – 1979 – Albania / India
    Founder of the Missionaries of Charity
    Cared for orphans, lepers and the terminally ill in the slums of Calcutta, India.
  7. Alva Myrdal – 1982 – Sweden
    Chairperson of the Stockholm Peace Research Institute
    Recognized as a vocal supporter of nuclear disarmament.
  8. Aung San Suu Kyi – 1991 – Burma
    Chairperson of the National League For Democracy
    Launched a non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.
  9. Rigoberta Menchu Tum – 1992 – Guatemala
    Recognized for her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous people.
  10. Jody Williams – 1997 – USA
    The driving force in the launch of ICBL (International Campaign to Ban Landmines).
    Recognized for her work for the banning and clearing of landmines
  11. Shirin Ebadi – 2003 – Iran
    Defended people persecuted by the authorities, resulting in her own imprisonment for criticizing her country’s hierocracy. Her focus was on the rights of women and children.
  12. Wangari Muta Maathai – 2004 – Kenya
    The first female professor in Kenya and founder of The Green Belt Movement, encouraging women to plant trees to counter deforestation. Recognized for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.
  13. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – 2011 – Liberia
    Recognized for opposing the Samuel Doe military dictatorship
    Had her life threatened by former President Charles Taylor
    Internationally known as “Africa’s Iron Lady”
  14. Leymah Gbowee – 2011 – Liberia
    Known for her role bringing Christian and Muslim women together during Liberia’s civil war
  15. Tawakkol Karman – 2011 – Yemen
    Founded Women Journalists Without Chains
    The first Arab woman, and the youngest person, to win a peace prize.
    She’s been imprisoned numerous times for her pro-democracy, pro-human rights protests.
    Known as “Mother of the Revolution” and “The Iron Woman”.

These women are heroes and incredible role models in a male dominated world where peace is all too often treated like an inconvenience that gets in the way of political and economic ambitions. Hopefully getting to  know something about them will provide a catalyst for changing the way we think about women and peace.

15 Women of Peace-2

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