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Gaia Caramazza

Two Muslim women could beat Greta Thunberg and win the Nobel Peace Prize

Somali women’s rights campaigner Ilwad Elman could win the Nobel Peace Prize [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 October, 2019

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Either Libyan women’s rights activist Hajer Sharief or Somali peace campaigner Ilwad Elman could possibly beat Greta Thunberg to the prestigious – but controversial – Nobel Peace Prize.
UPDATE: Ethiopian Prime Minister was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his work in ending the 20 year war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. 

Greta Thunberg may be the most likely nominee to win the Nobel Peace Prize this year, but two high-achieving Muslim women, Hajer Sharief (from Libya) and Ilwad Elman (from Somalia), could beat her to the honour on Friday morning.

Whilst the Nobel Committee is bound by strict confidentiality rules, those chosen to be in the race can reveal their nominations.

Sharief and Elman have made their nomination public, after they were short-listed on the Director for the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, which ranks those most likely to win the prize.

The two women are known for their work on women’s rights and women’s protections during times of conflicts.

They have also been a part of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s initiative which fosters the abilities and potentials of 10 activisist from across the globe.

Other contenders are the Ethiopian and New Zealand Prime Ministers, a Brazilian indigenous chief, and amongst others, the UN High Commission for Refugees.


The Torch Bearers

During’s Libya’s still struggling transition to democracy, Sharief has focused her efforts on amplifying the voices of women and youth.

Her organisation “Together We Build it” has been working to promote the UN Security Council resolutions to encourage young Libyan women to be active in the war-torn country’s peacebuilding mission. She founded the organisation when she was just 19 when the Arab spring wave of pro-democracy uprisings reached her homeland.

For her part, Elman is known for her efforts promoting a peaceful end to the devastating civil war which has raged in Somalia for more than two decades. Her father was an ardent peace activist before he was killed in 1996; her mother is renowned Somali activist Fartuun Abdisalaan Adan.

Since going back to Somalia at the age of 19, Elman’s work focused particularly on helping victims of sexual violence across the country. She founded the country’s first rape crisis centre for survivors of abuse and gender-based violence. She also supported young men and women through vocational schemes, helping them integrate, and giving support for defectors of extremist grounds, such as the Islamist Ash-Shabab group.


What remains of Nobel’s Legacy?

Issue of bias, lack of diversity, and sexual misconduct have undermined the legacy of the Nobel prize. Since the first ceremony starting in 1901, the academy has awarded only 49 women with the title of laureate, whilst 836 men have been deemed worthy of the prize.

Here, Hajer and Ilwad are part of the minority that defies the norm of the nominations for the globally celebrated award.

But the academy argues that it cannot take nationality nor gender into account when picking its predilect winners, so we are left to see a reflection of the world as is - where minorities are left at a severe disadvantage in the unequal world of material resources that underpin innovation.

“We are slow in our processes but we have to be as we need not only beautiful theory, but also to see it validated,” says Göran K. Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

“So often we are talking about work done 30 years ago, when the situation was much worse than it is now when it comes to equal opportunities.”


As of 2018, only twelve Muslims have been awarded the Nobel Prize and only seven have obtained the peace prize, out of thousands of nominees.

Anwar al-Sadat was the first Muslim awarded with the peace prize in 1978 due to his peace building attempts between Egypt and Israel at Camp David – Sadat was assassinated a few years later, and the peace treaty with Israel remains deeply controversial and unpopular amid continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

Shirin Ebadi was the only Iranian and the first Muslim woman to win the prize in 2003 for her campaign for the rights of women and children.

The world-famous Malala Yousafzai is one of the most recent Muslim nominees, and the youngest person to ever receive the prize. Her work in education provided significant support to the Pakistani youth in areas controlled by the Taliban.

Meanwhile, coinciding with the #MeToo movement, which exposed the magnitude of sexual abuse in the present day, the Swedish Academy did not present a literature prize in 2017 due to the scandal that emerged from rape allegations against one of the 18 members elected for life.

Seven members left the academy over an infighting that tarnished the reputation of the body founded 233 years ago.

Nobel committee member, Jean-Claude Arnault, was accused of several instances of rape. Several of the alleged assaults took place in the academy-owned properties where he used to run a cultural club for Stockholm’s high society. He is now serving a prison sentence for rape.

Global Nobel Spectacle

The prize provides a global platform for social justice issues, as many use the title as a status symbol, sometimes with an unquestioned prestige still prevalent in the eyes of many.

But questions remain around its ability to bring justice and peace into the real world.

An Iraqi Yazidi woman won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for her involvement in the campaign against sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.

Nadia Murad was born in Kojo, Iraq into a Yazidi family, an ethnic and religious minority in the country, targeted by the Islamic State with unimaginable violence leading up to genocide.

Nadia and 6,700 other women were taken as prisoners - beaten, abused, and raped. She now lives safely in Germany, after escaping the grasp of IS, and works to save the women that are facing the same horrors she knows too well.

The co-founder of Nadia’s public affairs firm, Elizabeth Schaeffer Brown, said Nadia did not want the Nobel Prize. Frustrated at the lack of response from the international community, she said the award seemed like a hollowed recognition - a reminder of the indifference the world showed at Nadia’s plight.

But she also recalls that the Nobel Prize propelled Nadia into the spotlight, making her the face of a new injustice everyone was suddenly slightly more interested about.

Many agree the Nobel committee itself has a long way to adapt itself to a changing society, where inequalities are highlighted more frequently than ever before. But one thing remains certain: the people nominated for these prizes lead important social justice fights that are often down-played, under reported, or forgotten in the global political consciousness.

Whether it’s Greta, Hajer, or Ilwad, the clock will start at midnight on Friday counting down the year before another name gets recognised for the small but mighty actions against grave violations against human life, from conflict and femicide, to man-made climate change.

Gaia Caramazza is a journalist at the New Arab

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab

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