I was thrilled to learn that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni leader Tawakkul Karman.

President Johnson Sirleaf, Gbowee and Karman were announced as recipients of the prize today by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo. They were honored for “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Elected in 2005 as Africa’s first female president, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has worked tirelessly to rebuild Liberia after 14 years of devastating civil wars that killed an estimated 250,000 people. USAID had the honor of hosting President Johnson Sirleaf at a development forum this year, where she spoke about her mission to move Liberia past the need for development assistance by 2020. Johnson Sirleaf is involved in the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to raise awareness of issues of critical importance to women.

A social worker and mother of five, Leymah Gbowee is head of the Accra-based Women Peace and Security Network Africa, which works to build relationships across the West African sub-region to build women’s capacity in preventing, averting and ending conflicts. She organized the non-violent movement that eventually ended the Second Liberian civil war in 2003. Gbowee is also the central character in the 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which has been used as an advocacy tool in post-conflict zones like Sudan and Zimbabwe, mobilizing African women to petition for peace and security

And chairwoman of Women Journalists without Chains, Tawakkul Karman, is a human rights activist and journalist. At 32, she is one of the youngest Nobel Prize recipients. Karman has been among the leaders of the peaceful protests challenging the rule of Yemen’s President Ali Abdulla Saleh, arguing for women’s rights, democracy and peace. In January this mother of three, took to the streets of the capital with about 50 university students demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
I applaud the Nobel Committee for recognizing these extraordinary leaders and for shining a spotlight on the role women peace-builders play in creating more stable, prosperous societies around the world.

At USAID, we remain proud to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment as integral components of all our development initiatives. As we continue our commitment to improving the lives of women and girls everywhere, we should recognize these living heroes as critical partners and allies.