United Methodist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for their work on women’s rights.

Johnson Sirleaf, a member of First United Methodist Church in Monrovia, Liberia, in 2006 was the first woman to be elected a head of state in modern Africa. She is up for re-election this month.

In a statement released after she learned of her award, Johnson Sirleaf said progress has been made in the last five years of her presidency and a new foundation for Liberia has been built.

“Dear Liberians, as we look at the work that must still be done, let us not forget that we are at peace with ourselves and our neighboring countries. Liberia is no longer a place where its people are fleeing in the thousands. On the contrary, Liberia is a country that Liberians and the world are returning to.”

Bishop John Innis, who leads Liberia’s 170,000 United Methodists, has urged support for Johnson Sirleaf from the first days of her presidency.

She calls herself “Mama Ellen” and has made equality for women a top priority. In her inauguration speech, she said: “Women have endured injustices and inhumane treatment; yet, it is the women who have labored and advocated for peace.”

She thanked the women in Liberia who “had an unmatched passion” for her candidacy. She said she would work to make sure women had their proper place in the economic process.

“I can think of no one who is more deserving than Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This award is powerful example of the impact of women as peace builders,” said Thomas Kemper, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. “Global Ministries has a strong relationship with Liberia on issues of peace and we have been so encouraged by the bishop of Liberia who is the vice president of our board. I join United Methodists around the world in congratulating Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman on this extraordinary honor.”

The three prizewinners share the 2011 award “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work,” Norwegian Nobel Committee president Thorbjoern Jagland said in his announcement.

Karman heads the human rights group Women Journalists Without Chains. Gbowee organized a group of Christian and Muslim women to challenge Liberia’s warlords.

Kathy L. Gilbert serves as a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and a United Methodist, is one of three women awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace prize. She addresses the United Methodist General Conference in this 2008 photo.

“Let us not forget that we are at peace with ourselves and our neighboring countries…”

– Ellen Johnson Sirleaf