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Tawakkol  Karman

Tawakkol Karman

Nobel Prize-Winning Human Rights Activist & Journalist


In 2011, a peaceful revolution broke out in defiance of despotic regimes across the Arab world. From Tunisia to Egypt and Yemen and beyond, citizens rose up in support of prosperity and progress in nations where authoritarian rule suppressed — often violently — advances in freedom, justice, science, democratic elections and human rights. One of the key international faces of the movement that came to be known as the Arab Spring is the Yemeni journalist, politician, peace-builder and human rights activist Tawakkol Karman, who sparked her own activist streak by organizing student rallies in Sana'a — the largest city in Yemen. By mobilizing forces against the oppressive regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, she helped push for his resignation the following year. Read More >

She was imprisoned on several occasions in 2011 — in some cases locked up in chains — prompting heightened protests for her release by fellow students, activists and politicians who began calling her "Iron woman" and "Mother of the Revolution" for her efforts to mobilize the Yemeni populace against Saleh's totalitarian rule. When the Arab Spring exploded that year, her human rights efforts became known globally through social media channels and the Western embrace of her cause. By year's end, she was the co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and women's rights activist Leymah Gbowee, lauded "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work." Karman is the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman and the second Muslim woman to win the Nobel Prize.

Born in Taiz — Yemen's third-largest city — in 1979 to a lawyer and politician father who served in Ali Abdullah Saleh's government, Karman studied commerce at the University of Science and Technology in Sana'a before receiving a graduate degree in political science. While working as a journalist she co-founded Women Journalists Without Chains as a means of advocating for freedom of opinion and expression and democratic rights for women around the world. Later on in her career she became a senior member of the Al-Islah political party, an opposition movement whose core constituents include the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists — groups that were crucial in overthrowing Egypt's oppressive regime in 2012.

A popular voice in the Arab world, she is also a noted journalist in Western countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., and speaks regularly and passionately at events and forums around the world on her triumphs and challenges as a human rights activist, politician and Arab Spring participant. In speeches tailored to various organizations including colleges and associations, she advocates directing key resources — including education, social equality and responsible investment — to dictatorships and developing nations where poverty is rampant and freedom is routinely suppressed. Equating the volatile situation in the Arab World with a combination of dictatorship, corruption, poverty and unemployment, she offers hopeful solutions to audiences of all ages, classes and creeds who believe in dignity, the democratic spirit and an end to despotic rule across the globe. She is also the mother of three children and currently lives in exile between Qatar and Istanbul. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Tawakkol Karman Wins Nobel Peace Prize

NAFSA 2015 Speech - Part 1

NAFSA 2015 Speech - Part 2

Speech Topics

Conscious Capitalism

A self-professed global citizen who divides her time between Qatar and Istanbul, making frequent trips to the U.S. and abroad for lectures, Arab Spring participant and "Mother of the Revolution" Tawakkol Karman views herself as part of a human family, at once united and stateless but always acting in accordance with the greater good. Membership in such a family includes a responsibility towards poorer nations (like her native Yemen) that lack the power and capital of their First World counterparts. In this presentation devoted to responsible investment — or "conscious capitalism," as she calls it — Karman examines how the international business community can better serve people around the world, in particular the poor, the disenfranchised and the oppressed, by investing in such things as science, education, women's rights and digital infrastructure.

Choosing to Bring Change

During the Yemeni uprising in 2011 that helped give birth to what is known as the Arab Spring, Tawakkol Karman was instrumental in organizing student rallies to protest against Ali Abdullah Saleh's oppressive regime, eventually resulting in his removal from office. The singular vision of the Arab Spring was change; by mobilizing people who held a similar vision, Karman helped effect change on a national, regional and global level. Other societies took note of Yemen's collective push for democracy and followed suit with their own protests, creating a domino effect that reverberated beyond the Arab world. In this hopeful presentation about choosing to take a stand, and building the kind of world that people want despite numerous challenges standing in the way of progress, Karman discusses her daring efforts to foster change within her own broken country, resulting in imprisonment and exile for her in exchange for better lives for her compatriots. Espousing the notion that we are all family, Karman examines global change right now through the prism of such factors as social media, student revolt and the changing face of Muslims in the wake of the Arab Spring.

The Power of Education

Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist Tawakkol Karman battled corruption and dictatorship as part of the Arab Spring uprising, pushing for freedom and democracy in her native Yemen and beyond. Her struggle started in the universities, where she mobilized students to fight for a rational society in which education is available to all citizens regardless of gender, social status or religious creed. With an emphasis on the scientific innovation movement, in particular bringing digital technologies to underserved areas, Karman argues for the importance of education in standing up to the totalitarian regimes around the world that seek to keep citizens disconnected and uninformed as a means of maintaining rigid control.

Peaceful Resistance

One of the main tenets of the Arab Spring uprisings that began in 2011 was a peaceful, non-violent approach to resisting terrorism, extremism and totalitarian rule, deeply rooted in the methods and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. In this rousing presentation, Nobel Prize-winning activist and freedom fighter Tawakkol Karman revisits her experiences on the front lines of the Arab Spring freedom and democracy movement, focusing on the student movement in Yemen and beyond, which took to the streets in great numbers across the Arab World, employing peaceful resistance as a means of achieving its goals.