Blog 42: Nine Women Nobel Peace Prize Winners Who Stand for Nonviolence Have Changed the World, by Mark Kingston Levin PhD

Can women who stand for peace solve the Israeli-Palestinian issues? We need a peaceful solution with both sides giving and gaining.

Baroness Bertha von Suttner of Austria was a friend of Alfred Nobel and a woman who did not really approve of privileged classes. She earned her own way as a governess. She argued for the benefits of peace, writing an anti-war novel Die Waffen Nieder (“Lay Down Your Arms”). Inspired by her efforts toward peace in the 1890s, Alfred Nobel established the peace prize. She was the fifth to get that prize in 1905.

Jane Addams is one of the founders of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), the organization she continued to lead until her death. As she asked, the name of the organization was carved on her headstone, (January/February 1999 • Vol. 59 • No.) along with Hull House, the famous settlement house she established. She worked to stop World War I and settle things with nonviolent methods. She was awarded the Nobel Prize December 10, 1931.

Emily Greene Balch was Jane Addams’ colleague to stop World War I; they were partners in founding WILPF, and Emily Greene Balch was the successor to lead WILPF. In 1946 Balch shared the prize with John Mott, a leader of the YMCA. Mercedes Randall campaigned for Balch to the Noble committee.

Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan

In 1976, the senseless killing of innocent children in the streets of Belfast during a high-speed chase between British soldiers and an IRA thug produced a wave of revulsion against the violence that had been sweeping Northern Ireland. Catholic IRA members were using murder and terror to drive out the British Protestant extremists, who were doing the same in response, and many innocent victims were killed as a consequence. The movement opposing this violence was led by Betty Williams, a housewife who came upon the scene of the accident, and Mairead Corrigan, the aunt of the victims.

Corrigan and Williams working together shows Ireland that ordinary people are against the violence. This started the movement to nonviolent settlement of differences. They had the courage to take the first step. “They did so in the name of humanity and love of their neighbor; someone had to start forgiving. …” Now Northern Ireland has peace! It took a long time, but someone had to start the process.

Mother Teresa

In 1979, Professor John Sanness chaired the Nobel Committee. He presented Nobel Peace Prize to Mother Teresa. He explained why Mother Teresa was so special for rising above all boundaries including political, social, intellectual, religious, or racial on the international plane. The spirit of Mother Teresa inspires the world to help the needy.

The hallmark of her work has been respect for the individual and the individual’s worth and dignity. She was born a Roman Catholic from an Albanian family living in Skopje, capital of Macedonia at that time. When she was twelve, Mother Teresa felt the call to help the poor. Later she decided to go to India where the lepers and other were left to die in the streets. Six years later she joined the Irish order of Loreto and found work in the order’s girls school. After sixteen years, she felt a new challenge to work in the Calcutta slums. Soon she founded a new order, the Missionaries of Charity, committed to serve the poorest of the poor, which spread to many countries.

Alva Myrdal

In 1982 Nobel Committee Chairman Egil Aarvik of Norway gave the presentation speech at the award ceremony when the Nobel Prize was shared between Alva Myrdal and Alfonso García Robles of Mexico. Recognizing two prominent leaders in the disarmament movement gave this movement a very positive image. From 1962 to 1973, Myrdal headed the Swedish delegation to the U.N. Disarmament Committee. She also authored the best book on disarmament. Alva Myrdal was the first female to be appointed head of a department in the United Nations Secretariat. She also served as a Cabinet member and as ambassador to India. She won many honors.

Aung San Suu Kyi

During the December 1991 Nobel Prize ceremony for Aung San Suu Kyi, she was still being held in detention by the military dictatorship in Myanmar (Burma), but she sent her husband and two sons as family representatives. In his presentation of the Nobel Prize, the chairman of the committee, Professor Francis Sejersted, declared, “Her absence fills us with fear and anxiety,” but he felt we could also have confidence and hope. “In the good fight for peace and reconciliation, we are dependent on persons who set examples, persons who can symbolize what we are seeking and mobilize the best in us. Aung San Suu Kyi is just such a person.”

Rigoberta Menchú Tum

In October 1992, the Nobel Prize for Peace was announced to Rigoberta Menchú, a Mayan Indian of Guatemala “in recognition of her work for social justice and ethnocultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.”

Conservative critics charged that Menchú had taken part in violent actions of the Guatemalan guerrillas against the government. Previous Nobel Prizes for Peace Had gone only to people who used nonviolent methods, like Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma. Menchú had every provocation to take up arms, and two of her sisters had joined the guerrillas. But not her. Even though Government soldiers had brutally murdered their father, mother and brother because their father opposed the landowners. Menchú wrote this horrific story in I, Rigoberta Menchú, An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Menchú did not turn to violence, but to political and social work for her people, and that is why she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


November 11-12, 1994
Rutgers University
Copyright © 1994

Irwin Abrams
913 Xenia Avenue
Yellow Springs, Ohio 45387

Heroines of peace – the nine Nobel women
By Irwin Abrams
Antioch University

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2018-12-10T22:05:57-08:00 November 7th, 2018|Blog, Nonviolence|