Tawakkol Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 in recognition of her work in non-violent struggle for the expression rights, safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work in Yemen. Upon being awarded the prize, Tawakkol became the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman, and the second Muslim woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate to that date, at the age of 32.
Karman, a mother of three, is a human rights activist, journalist, politician and president of the NGO Women Journalists without Chains (WJWC). She is also the general coordinator of the Peaceful Youth Revolution Council, a member of the advisory board for the Transparency International and several other international human rights NGOs.
Bold and outspoken, Karman has been imprisoned on numerous occasions for her pro-democracy and pro-human rights protests. Among Yemen’s youth movement, she is known as “mother of the revolution”, “the iron woman”, and “the lady of the Arab spring”.
She earned a BA degree in administrative and economic science collage from the University of Science and Technology in Sana’a, and Post-graduate degree in Educational Psychology at Sanaa University. She got a diploma degree in investigative journalism in the United States.
As a journalist by profession and human rights activist by nature, Tawakkol responded to the political instability and human rights abuses in Yemen by mobilizing others and reporting on injustices. In 2005, Karman co-founded the no-governmental organization “Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC) to advocate for women’s rights, civil rights and freedom of expression.
She has organized and participated in countless activities and written articles, calling for abandonment of despotism, extremism, violence and terrorism, for dialogues between religions and sects and for co-existence between peoples, cultures and civilizations.
Tawakkol Karman was one of the first voices calling for the departure of Saleh’s dictatorial regime, and she had always been firmly convinced of the need to achieve this goal as clearly expressed in her different articles during the pre-2011 period such as the one published by Al-Thawri newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Yemeni Socialist Party, on September 27, 2007. Therein, she called for a popular peaceful uprising throughout Yemen to overthrow the then existing regime to be replaced by a full democratic system.
In 2007, Karman founded what became known as Freedom Square in front of Yemeni Cabinet in Sana’a to be a place for weekly protests – every Tuesday – targeting systemic government repression and calling for inquiries into corruption and other forms of social and legal injustices. These protests continued to be held until she redirected protesters to support the Arab Spring in 2011. Karman even brought Yemen’s revolution to New York, organizing rallies at the UN headquarters.
Since as early as 2007, the longtime activist for human rights and freedom of expression had been able to organize hundreds of protests, sit-ins and solidarity events, as well as campaigned for women’s rights and ending harassment of journalists. All of this became a source of inspiration for citizens to reject injustice and show solidarity without fear of influential and the security services.
Tawakkol Karman courageously stood up for individuals who were subjected to human rights violations, such as the villagers in Ja’ashin , an area in Ibb province where feudal sheikh forced dozens of families and those who refused to submit to his power to leave their homes and lands. As the president of Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC), Karman called on the authority to take a decisive stand against the influential sheik, bring him to justice and stand up for the vulnerable. Additionally, she supported a case of a citizen in Hodeidah province who was subjected to brutal torture by a local sheikh who used to enslave citizens and punish whoever rebelled against obedience.
Angering Saleh’s regime, Tawakkol Karman supported the Southern Movement, and attended several events and festivals of its own. In 2007, she gave speeches at al-Wafa Square in Dhale’ and Radfan attended by an unprecedented crowd of supporters, calling on Saleh’s regime to stop looting the wealth of the south.
Karman was imprisoned on several occasions. The most notable detention was on January 22, 2011 when she was arrested in the late night and sent to the prison of women, accusing her inciting chaos and disorder and undermining public social peace. Following very big protests in most of Yemeni provinces and a wide international solidarity with her, the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh found itself forced to release her.
Her home was exposed to raids and damage. She has been exposed to several attempts of killing, most notably was a woman’s attempt to stab her from the back but she was saved by her supporters who could hold that woman. She, along with her children, has been threatened with murder and death, most notably when the president Ali Abdullah Saleh contacted with her brother to threaten her brother with killing whoever goes out of his obedience. For years, she was subjected to a smear campaign of defamation. She always repeats that the death comes only once and that when it comes while you are defending a cause or making a change is better than it comes while you are asleep on the bed: “We do not fear of the future but we make it”.