Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, compatriot "peace warrior" Leymah Gbowee and Yemen's Arab Spring activist Tawakkul Karman won the Nobel Peace Prize Friday in a nod to women's empowerment.
The three will share the 2011 award "for their non-violent 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.
The Nobel jury's choice can be seen as a celebration of women's growing empowerment globally and especially in deeply conservative and tribal countries like Yemen or war-scarred nations like Liberia where women are easily victimised.
It is also a recognition of the winds of liberation and change still sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa, pushed forward by courageous activists, many of whom are women.
Tawakkul Karman, is a 32-year-old Yemeni journalist and activist who has braved several stints in prison in her struggle for women's rights, press freedoms and the release of political prisoners in her country.
Karman, youngest Peace Prize winner ever, dedicated her prize to "all the activists of the Arab Spring" -- a reference to the protesters who took to the streets across the Arab world demanding democracy.
She told AFP her prize was "a victory for the Yemeni revolution and the peaceful character of this revolution."
Karman, the first Arab woman to receive the honour, has become a leading figure in the uprising against Yemen's veteran leader Ali Abdullah Saleh.
She has not left Sanaa's Change Square -- the focal point of demonstrations -- for four months for fear of being hunted by gunmen loyal to the embattled president.
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United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon hailed the choice.
"This is wonderful news," he said, adding: "This is a testament to the power of women's leadership ... (and) the vital role that women play in the advancement of peace and security, development, and human rights."
US President Barack Obama hailed the three "remarkable" women who shared the prize, calling the award a reminder of the need to empower women.
Obama, who won the 2009 Peace Prize, was effusive in his support of the trio's efforts after a meeting in the Oval Office.
"The three women who won the Nobel prize today are all remarkable examples of not only their determination and spirit but also a reminder that when we empower women around the world, everyone is better off," he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been called the world's most powerful woman, said the prize was a "wise decision," and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch celebrated the focus on woman and their empowerment.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the choice was "an inspiration for women's rights and human progress everywhere."
The 2011 laureates bring the number of women winners to just 15 in the 110-year history of the Nobel Peace Prize, and they are the first women to take the top honour since recently deceased Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai won in 2004.
Maathai, Sirleaf and Gbowee are the only African women ever to win the Peace Prize.
Thursday's laureates will receive their awards, each consisting of a diploma, a gold medal and a third of the 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.48 million, 1.08 million euros) prize money, at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10.