Guest post by regular contributor Lee Reid Taylor.
Barack Obama and the world woke up Friday morning to the unexpected news that the president had received the Nobel Peace Prize. Women’s responses to the announcement ran the gamut: from accolades, to shock and even disbelief. Some question whether the award is premature, while others believe it is a call for Obama to act on his political oratory of peace.
Obama is the third sitting president, following Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, to receive the honor. The first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize was a woman, Bertha von Suttner, in 1901. Female recipients of the Peace Prize include: Jane Addams, Ayn San Suu Kii, Betty Williams, and Wangari Maathai (just to name a few). Of the ninety-six Nobel Peace Prizes awarded, only nineteen were given to women. The fact that Obama is now a recipient leads some to ask, “Why him, and why now?”
Women have different interpretations of why this award was given and what impact it will have on the president’s policies.
For Gloria Feldt, former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and board member of The Women’s Media Center, “Obama is not just a breath of fresh air, he’s also a global citizen who respects and walks easily in multiple cultures. The un-Bush. Our standing in the world has skyrocketed since Obama’s election.”
Jodie Evans, Women’s Media Center board member, just returned from a peace mission to Afghanistan on behalf of CODEPINK, the which she co-founded, as a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stop new wars, and redirect resources into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities.
Evans sees this as a call to action for President Obama, “It seems the Nobel Committee strategy is a bit like ours at CODEPINK; doing all we can to help Obama keep his promises for peace. It is a great recognition and obligation. It was a bit shocking to happen the day after he wouldn’t meet with the Dalai Lama. I hope this means he will quit dropping unmanned drones, sending more troops, keeping open illegal bases and that he insist that Israel freeze all settlements and abide by the rule of law in Gaza. Opportunities abound for him to step into these very large shoes.”
Dr. Sakeena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute for Learning, an internationally recognized organization dedicated to improving the health and education of Afghan women and children, thinks Obama’s Peace Prize is well-deserved. “I think that President Obama is an excellent choice for the Nobel Peace Prize. The award recognizes his work in trying to find alternative and peaceful solutions to complex problems that have resulted in war. In searching for other ways, he has changed the approach to solving problems from war first to finding alternative means. This is a huge step towards peace.”
The Nobel Peace Prize Committee believes Obama capable of rising to the occasion. According to the Nobel Peace Prize website, The Peace Prize is awarded to individuals who specifically promote, “…general disarmament and the dissemination of the concept of peace. The most important provision, however, is contained in the term ‘fraternity between nations.’”
In its announcement, the Nobel Prize Committee adopted an unusual–if not unprecedented–pro-active stance citing President Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation among peoples ” noting, in particular, that: “Only very rarely has a person to such an extent captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.”
In a sense, the Peace Committee has embarked on uncharted waters, in seeking to propel Obama’s vision forward, lending its voice and moral authority, to his eloquence on display at the United Nations, just two weeks ago.
The previous day, he had spelled out a new American agenda on meeting one-on-one with the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian authority to energize the Middle East peace process, laying down critical markers on a settlement freeze and reining in terrorist attacks for each respectively, while admonishing both to get down to final status negotiations.
In addition to demonstrating the importance of peace in the Middle East, Obama remarked on the importance of racial and gender equality throughout the globe.
According to The New York Times, Obama quoted the UN Assembly Charter, and underscored the importance “…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women.” Among those rights is the promise of equality of the races, and the opportunity for women and girls to pursue their own potential.”
The question remains: have Obama’s actions to date justified his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize? Ironically this was the same charge leveled at Obama during the recent presidential campaign; that he was all prose and no performance.
Feldt says, “I was at my computer writing in the wee hours this morning when I saw a tweet saying Obama won the Nobel. I thought it was one of those Twitter rumors that spread like wildfire, but it piqued my interest enough that I clicked news sources until I was convinced this was no hoax. As thrilled as I am that the world has such a positive view of Obama, for him to be given the Nobel Peace Prize at this stage of this presidency is premature adulation.”
With all the public attention shifting to Obama’s international policies one begins to ponder if there will be political fallout for domestic issues: like the campaign for healthcare.
Feldt continues, “It’s not going to help him pass health care, and there’s going to be a lot of skepticism—not just from the right–about whether he’s earned such an honor yet. Because he hasn’t, really. ”