Three women from Liberia and Yemen on Friday shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to promote women's rights and peace-building in countries affected by conflict.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and pro-democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen were awarded "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.
It also underlined the importance of including and offering women equal opportunities in order to "achieve democracy and lasting peace."
Johnson-Sirleaf, 72, was in 2006 inaugurated as the first democratically elected woman president of an African nation, three years after the end of a 14-year-long civil war.
Shortly after learning of her win, Sirleaf-Johnson said she was "ecstatic beyond words" and lauded compatriot Gbowee's efforts to mobilize women from different ethnic and religious groups to work for peace.
Gbowee, 39, currently heads the Ghana-based group Women Peace and Security Network Africa.
The Liberian leader also paid tribute to her countrymen, who had "kept the peace" for the past six years, she told broadcaster NRK.
The civil war wreaked havoc in Liberia where unemployment and poverty remain rife, and efforts to reintegrate former child soldiers continue.
The Liberian president said she hoped the prize would "inspire more women in Liberia, in Africa to take positions of conscience."
Thorbjorn Jagland, chairman of the five-member Nobel Committee, noted that the selection of Karman was also intended to honour activists who drove on the so-called Arab Spring, of whom many had been tipped as winners.
"This was a victory for peace in the Arab world, a victory for the peaceful revolution in Yemen," Karman told broadcaster CNN. She learned of her award while taking part in a protest in the Yemeni capital Sana'a.
The 32-year-old mother of three, who has led the pro-democracy group Women without Chains for more than years, is the first Arab woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. The most recent woman to win the award before Friday's announcement was Wangari Maathai of Kenya, who died last month.
Jagland said Karman had shown "courage, long before the (Arab Spring) revolution started" and had "stood up against one of the most authoritarian and autocratic regimes in the world."
The committee also sent a signal that if efforts to achieve democracy were to succeed, "women could not be set aside," he said.
"This win is a source of pride for all Arabs ... and we hope the Nobel Prize will play a role in rendering successful the revolution in Yemen and (other) Arab revolutions," said Ahmed Maher, a co-founder of the prominent Egyptian protest group April 6 who had also been tipped to win the prize.
With Friday's announcement, the number of female peace laureates jumped from 12 to 15, but Jagland emphasized that the committee "did not have a gender balance."
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told reporters it was a prize that "recognized the role women play in reconciliation."
Jagland said the committee had not taken into account "domestic considerations" when asked about the choice of Johnson-Sirleaf, who is running for reelection next week.
"Violence against women in conflicts" had gained international attention, Jagland added, noting the importance of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which outlawed gender-based violence against women in armed conflict.
It was only the second time in its 110-year-old history that the Nobel Peace Prize -- worth 10 million kronor (1.4 million dollars) was shared between three winners. The first time was in 1994.
The Nobel Committee considered a record 241 nominations for the 2011 prize.
Last year, jailed Chinese dissident and writer Liu Xiaobo won the award. In 2009, US President Barack Obama was a surprise choice.
The peace prize is the fifth of the 2011 Nobel prizes to be awarded. The prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry and literature were announced earlier in the week.
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