TRIPOLI, Libya — Friday's award of the Nobel Peace Prize to three women who had undertaken nonviolent campaigns for peace and women's rights in war zones sent a powerful message to the developing world that women must not be left behind by movements that are pushing for democratic reforms.
But whether women will have "the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society," as the Nobel citation called for, remains a much-discussed question even as reform movements upend long-standing regimes.
Before the announcement, there was widespread speculation that the prestigious $1.5 million prize would go to participants in the Arab Spring revolts that continue to shake up authoritarian governments across the Middle East and North Africa.
Each laureate shows the power of women to influence events.
Tawakkul Karman, a 32-year-old Yemeni mother of three, underscores the obstacles women face as they struggle for reform in conservative societies. Karman, who in 2005 founded the group Women Journalists Without Chains, continued her human rights activism despite death threats and the specter of prison.
"This is not a win for me, but rather for the youth of Yemen, and all of the activists of the Arab world," Karman said.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 72, Liberia's president and the first woman ever to be democratically elected to lead an African nation, reflects a rare success story in a country where years of civil war devastated the economy and the social structure.
Johnson-Sirleaf, a Harvard-educated economist, ascended to Liberia's presidency in 2006 and has won praise for keeping her tiny, conflict-ridden country from sliding back into civil war. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Liberia was part of a multination killing zone in West Africa where warlords and militias pillaged cities, hacked off limbs and raped women with impunity.
Leymah Gbowee, 39, a Liberian community organizer, highlights the innovative grass roots campaigns of women who are fed up with violence in their communities — one of the pressure tactics Gbowee devised was to organize Liberian women into holding a "sex strike" to force their men to stop fighting.
Gbowee led a delegation of Liberian women to peace talks in Ghana to press the warring sides to reach an agreement.
She described her sex-strike tactic in a 2009 appearance on The Colbert Report.
"Desperation was the reason for us going that way," Gbowee said. "We had just gotten to the point where we were really fed up and we thought our menfolk weren't really serious about ending the conflict … and we needed to find a way to get to them. …
"We just said, 'No sex.' "