Tawakkol Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 in recognition of her work in nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peacebuilding 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 date, at the age of 32.
Karman is a mother of three as well as a human rights activist, journalist, politician, and senior member of the Al-Islah political party.
Tawakkol was born in 1979 in Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city. She studied an undergraduate degree in Commerce from the University of Science and Technology in Sana’a before completing a graduate degree in Political Science from the University of Sana’a.
Growing up in a politically tumultuous country, Tawakkol witnessed the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, followed by a civil war between the two factions in 1994 in which the North triumphed over the South. The civil war led to dissidence in the South as the repressive Northern government assumed control over the country.
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, she founded the organization Women Journalists Without Chains, (WJWC) which advocates for rights and freedoms and provides media skills to journalists. In addition, 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, Tawakkol began organizing weekly protests in Yemen’s capitol, Sana’a, targeting systemic government repression and calling for inquiries into corruption and other forms of social and legal injustice. Tawakkol’s weekly protests continued until 2011, when she redirected protesters to support the Arab Spring. Tawakkol even brought Yemen’s revolution to New York speaking directly with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and organizing rallies at the UN headquarters.
Bold and outspoken, Tawakkol has been imprisoned on a number of occasions for her pro-democracy, pro-human rights protests. Amongst Yemen’s opposition movement, she is known as “mother of the revolution” and “the iron woman.”
Since receiving the award, Tawakkol has continued to support female journalists and rally Yemenis against government corruption and injustice. Fiercely committed to change, Tawakkol spends the majority of her time in a tent in Change Square, where she continues her peaceful protests for justice and freedom.