The University hosted a talk by Tawakkul Karman, one of the three 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners, on Monday. Her message of peace and equality was powerfully communicated to the students, faculty and Ann Arbor residents who attended and it was an honor to have her as a campus speaker. Karman — the first Yemeni to win a Nobel Prize — is an inspiration to minority communities and women, and she proves that diplomatic measures can produce results. The University made a strong statement by inviting Karman to speak to the community, and should strive to continue bringing powerful speakers to campus.
Karman was invited to speak as part of the University’s Arabic Language Flagship Program. Her speech discussed the changes in the Arab Spring, which is a series of recent democratic uprisings against governments across the Middle East. As a journalist and a member of the Al-Islah political party, the opposition party in Yemen, she believes in the importance of women’s involvement in politics and peaceful protests.
The University should be commended for bringing Karman to Ann Arbor and promoting the event. Rackham Auditorium was packed with an attentive audience. The speech created a forum for students to think about race, religion and gender in different ways, and fostered more open and receptive thoughts. After her speech, there was an intelligent dialogue between Karman and students who asked questions.
Karman suggested that people are citizens of the world and stressed a general loyalty to humanity. She discussed her belief in peaceful protests, which is a message that should resonate with students. In the wake of the protests of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R–Va.) who spoke on campus last month and the riots at Pennsylvania State University, students should take notice that the most powerful way to get their message across is through non-violent protests.
Karman stressed that the power of women is growing. In Yemen, women are taking control of protests and becoming more involved in revolutions. Karman is an example to the rest of the world that women can have considerable influence. When women across the world develop similar goals to Karman’s, gender equality will have made significant progress.
The other 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners were Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and peace activist Leymah Gbowee. Each of the three female Nobel Prize winners exemplifies an overall trend toward gender equality in developing worlds. These women play an important role in pushing social change forward in developing countries and serve as an example of the role all women should strive to take in working for social progress.
In an interview after the event, Karman told The Michigan Daily that students also have a positive impact on the world. “Student-led movements have always been a part in changing history and fulfilling people’s dreams of achieving freedom and dignity,” she said.
Students have the opportunity to rally for what they believe in, and following the wise words of Karman, they can make their goals a reality. Speakers like Karman demonstrate to the student body that constructive change is possible for anyone willing to dedicate themselves to a cause they believe in, and the University should work to bring more motivational individuals to speak to students.