NEWS
07/10/2011 10:25 BST | Updated 07/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Death Threats, Sex Bans And The African Iron Lady: Profiles Of The Nobel Peace Prize Winners

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to three female campaigners – the first time a woman has won for seven years.

Yemeni democracy activist Tawakkul Karman, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and peace activist Leyma Gbowee, also from Liberia, shared the award for successfully “building brotherhood between nations” - perhaps sisterhood would have been more suitable.

"We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society," said Thorbjorn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

So, who are the winners?

Tawakkul Karman, Yemeni activist mother of three, received death threats and faced prison in her fight against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

As chairman of Women Journalists Without Chains, she emerged as the natural leader of anti-government protests staging sit-ins and public demonstrations and demanding respect for human rights.

Inspired by the success of the Jasmine revolution in Tunisia, she said: "I dedicate it [the award] to all the activists of the Arab Spring.”

Criticised for supporting women by the ultra-conservative members of the Islah, she has also faced controversy campaigning for secular democracy whilst retaining her membership of the leading Islamic Opposition Party, Islah.

Student protest leaders have accused her of using their movement as a personal bid for power.

But she is not about to stop after protesting outside Sanaa University every Tuesday since May 2007.

She told The Guardian in March: "I think if I can be in the street with the people I can achieve more than if I am the president."

Leymah Gbowee used controversy to further her campaign, rallying women of Liberia to stage a mass sex strike as part of a non-violent protest against the oppressive Liberian government under brutal President Charles Taylor.

"Desperation was the reason for us going that way." she told Jon Colbert on Comedy Central

"Under his [Taylor's] regime we saw some of the worst atrocities. We didn't have a future. We were being raped, we were being abused."

"We got to the point where we thought our menfolk weren’t really serious about ending the conflict and they were the ones who were perpetrating all of the violence, so we needed to find a way to get to them. This seemed like a good way."

The Women of Liberian Mass Action for Peace movement led by Gbowee, began in a fish market, just a small group of women singing and praying for an end to the violence.

Wearing white t-shirts to symbolise peace, under her leadership the movement crept into thousands, garnering formidable political force. They managed to meet with President Charles Taylor, compelling him to attend peace talks in Ghana.

"Pray the Devil Back to Hell" was an award winning documentaries depicting the struggle against the atrocities and bring an end to the conflict. Through her campaigning, mobilising peace talks, and at one point staging a silent protest outside the Presidential Palace, Accra, the Women of Liberian Mass Action for Peace eventually brought an end to over a decade of civil war in Liberia.

Gbowee’s peace movement led to the installation of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first democratically elected female president of Liberia. Ravaged by 14 years of bloody civil war that saw 200,000 casualties, the country desperately needed to rebuild its infrastructure and maintain a fragile peace.

Sirleaf earned the nickname ‘Iron Lady’ in Liberia in 1997 when she dared to challenge Taylor in presidential elections. She lost by a landslide and had to go into exile in Abidjan, but the 72 year old, who holds a economics degree from Harvard, is now running for a second term in office with campaign badges declaring "Ellen — She's Our Man."

Last year's winner was Liu Xiaobo for his long and non-violent struggle campaigning for human rights in China. He remains in prison in China, while his wife is under house arrest.