“We are the new generation struggling for our freedom. We know that this is a new world and the future is ours. And as women, they built walls around us because they are afraid of us. ... We want to show the world that women can do everything. ... We chose peace and only peace.”
Tawakkol Karman speaks passionately of peace, which, in a culture that silences citizens, in general, and women, in particular, is a bold stance. It’s this confidence in what she believes-her work in a nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights in the Middle Eastern country of Yemen-that Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Upon receiving the award she became the first Arab woman, the second Muslim woman and, at 32, the youngest person to earn the prize.
This passionate speaker and journalist brings her message-”Women, Human Rights and the Arab Revolution”-to the annual Ware Lecture on Peacemaking at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 10, in Elizabethtown College’s Leffler Chapel and Performance Center. The Ware Lecture, sponsored by Judy S. ‘68 and Paul W. Ware and the College’s Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking, will be moderated by Brian Katulis, a senior fellow with Washington, D.C.’s, Center for American Progress.
Imprisoned on a number of occasions for pro-democracy and pro-human rights protests, Karman personally understands the loss of dignity. Her home has been exposed to raids and damage, and her life and the lives of her children have been threatened on numerous occasions. She is known to say, however, that it is better if death comes while you are defending a cause or making a change for the better than if you are doing nothing, asleep in your bed.
A journalist by profession and human rights activist by nature, Karman is known among Yemen’s youth movement as the “mother of the revolution.” They also call her “the iron woman” and “the lady of the Arab Spring.” She is a politician, a senior member of the Al-Islah political party and a member of the advisory board for the Transparency International organization and for several international human rights NGOs. She also is the mother of three.
Karman was born in 1979 in Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city. She earned a graduate degree in political science at the University of Sana’a. In 1990 she witnessed the unification of North and South Yemen, followed by a civil war in 1994. The war led to dissidence in the South as the repressive Northern government assumed control over the country.
The journalist responded to the political instability and human rights abuses in Yemen by mobilizing others and reporting on injustices. In 2005, she founded-and is president of-Women Journalists Without Chains, which advocates for rights and freedoms and provides media skills to writers. The organization produces regular reports on human rights abuses in Yemen, documenting more than 50 cases of attacks and unfair sentences against newspapers and writers, to date.
In 2007, Karman began organizing weekly protests in Yemen’s capitol, targeting systemic government repression and calling for inquiries into corruption and other forms of social and legal injustice. Her weekly protests continued until 2011, when she redirected protesters to support the Arab Spring. Karman even brought Yemen’s revolution to New York, organizing rallies at the United Nations headquarters.
Since earning the Nobel Peace Prize-along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, who was the College’s 2013 Ware Lecturer-Karman has continued to support female journalists and rally Yemenis against government corruption and injustice. Fiercely committed to change, she spends the majority of her time in a tent in Change Square, where she continues her peaceful protests for justice and freedom.
She strongly calls for equal citizenship not only in her country but on the world level. “I am a universal citizen,” the lecturer said. “The earth is my home land and humanity is my nation.”
Ware Lecture moderator, Brian Katulis, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. His work focuses on U.S. national security policy in the Middle East and South Asia. An expert in national security, Middle East politics and terrorism, Katulis has served as a consultant to numerous U.S. government agencies, private corporations and nongovernmental organizations in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt and Colombia, to name a few. From 1995 to 1998, he lived and worked in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Egypt for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
Katulis, a speaker of Arabic, earned his master’s degree from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs. In 1994 and 1995, he was a Fulbright scholar in Amman, Jordan, where he conducted research on the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.
The Elizabethtown College Ware Lecture marries the College’s pivotal mission of international education and purposeful life work with its Brethren heritage commitment to peace, nonviolence and human dignity.