The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was given to three women on Friday, who were awarded for championing women's rights.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace advocate Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman were selected by the award committee in Oslo for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work.

“The world cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society, the committee stated.

The three women will split the 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) purse.

Sirleaf was the first and only democratically elected female head of state in Africa. She founded the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2006, which investigated 20 years of civil war and human rights violations in Liberia. It was an important political and social cleansing for a country once torn apart by violence.

Gbowee was also active in achieving peace in Liberia. As the founder of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, she became a non-violent force against civil war.

Karman is a human rights activist and politician in Yemen, a country currently experiencing a large-scale popular movement against the government. Karman organized student rallies in the capital of Sanaa, after which she was arrested. When she was released, she immediately went back to protesting.

I am very very happy about this prize, Karman told The Associated Press. I give the prize to the youth of revolution in Yemen and the Yemeni people.

Only 40 of the total 776 Peace Prize winners have been women in the past, and no three women have ever won the prize together. In 1976, two women -- Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, who founded the Northern Ireland Peace Movement -- split the prize.

The first female winner was Bertha von Suttner, who won the 1905 prize for her book Lay Down Your Armsand for helping actually create the Nobel Peace Prize. Before Friday, the last woman to win was Kenya's Wangari Muta Maathai in 2004.

Every year in the days before announcement, the committee keeps the winner of the Peace Prize a carefully guarded secret. Initial speculation this week pointed toward the many important figures from the Arab Spring (Karman certainly counts as one).

Some media outlets suggested social media entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg could win because sites like Facebook and Twitter were powerful tools of mass communication during many of the Arab Spring uprisings. Other suggested that the many blogger-activists could win.

But regime-toppling mass-movements are about people, and not technology.

Many years before the revolutions started [Karman] stood up against one of the most authoritarian and autocratic regimes in the world, Committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland told reporters in Oslo.

Other 2011 Nobel Prize winners included three U.S. physicists, an Israeli winner of the prize in chemistry, and surrealist Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, who won in Literature. The economics prize will be revealed on Oct. 10.

Last year's Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is in the third year of an 11-year prison sentence. He was imprisoned for writing Charter 08, a petition for free speech, open elections and the rule of law.