To regain its moral compass, the Nobel Peace Prize is in urgent need of reform

By Saman Rizwan - 31 May 2023
To regain its moral compass, the Nobel Peace Prize is in urgent need of reform

Saman Rizwan argues for reform of the committee and its selection process.

Last weekend, when British Asian TV star, Meera Syal accepted her lifetime achievement award at the Bafta’s she used the platform to urge the TV industry to embrace diversity. In 2023, Western industries still lack the representation to promote a truly inclusive society. And this is no more pertinent than when it comes to the world’s most prestigious awards and accolades.

For example, for over a century the Nobel Peace Prize has stood as a symbol of human achievement and progress, but its appeal seems to be fading in recent years. Why? Well for years, this prestigious accolade has predominantly favoured individuals hailing from the Global North, while minorities and women have remained largely underrepresented.

The numbers speak for themselves: out of the 954 Nobel Prize recipients to date, a mere 6 percent have been women. Furthermore, although the first Black laureate emerged in 1950, only 16 Black individuals have been recognized since then, with none ever receiving the coveted awards in chemistry, medicine, or physics. This glaring lack of diversity underscores the pressing need for change within the Nobel Prize’s selection process and its broader perception as a symbol of excellence and achievement.

Certainly, this disparity reflects the broader inequities ingrained in our society, where minorities and women – for a variety of reasons – struggle to enter fields that are awarded by a Nobel. However, I would go so far as to argue it’s more than that – the Nobel’s instead have a stark preference for Global North issues, all but casting aside ground-breaking advancements in the Global South.

This is a serious problem. After all, crises that threaten our world’s future are concentrated along fault lines in the Global South. Climate change, economic instability, conflict – all disproportionately impact these regions, which can no longer be overlooked.

For example, religious leaders continue to be discounted, especially when it comes to the Muslim world. But Islamic leaders have been making leaps and bounds when it comes to promoting interfaith relations, countering extremism, fighting Holocaust denialism, and even challenging the science-faith divide in climate action.

Yet, Islamic interfaith leaders – and many others – are still absent from the list of accolades reserved for people of European descent.

We can no longer ignore the voices of the Global South. The Nobel Prize holds immense influence and can serve as a catalyst for progress. By broadening its scope and embracing greater diversity, the Nobel committee has the power to uplift voices from marginalized communities, empower underrepresented groups, and inspire a new generation of thinkers, peacemakers, and creatives from around the world.

To achieve this, fundamental changes are needed. The committee must re-evaluate its selection process, actively seeking out candidates who have made substantial contributions in the Global South. Quotas could help counter the biases ingrained within the system and ensure that deserving individuals are not overlooked due to systemic barriers. Transparency in the decision-making process is also vital, and opening up the secretive nature of the selection process to scrutiny would foster accountability and mitigate potential biases.

Furthermore, the Nobel Prize should actively engage with and draw upon the expertise of diverse communities. By involving representatives from immigrant backgrounds, ethnic minorities, and indigenous populations, the committee can gain fresh perspectives and ensure that the Nobel Prize reflects the rich tapestry of global contributions to knowledge, peace, and human advancement.

By addressing these deficiencies, the Nobel Prize can fulfil its true potential as a beacon of progress and a symbol of global cooperation. It can play a pivotal role in shifting the narrative away from entrenched power structures and toward a more inclusive, equitable world. The responsibility lies with the Nobel committee to embrace the transformative power of diversity and champion the voices that have been historically marginalized.

I hope for a future where recipients represent the true breadth of human achievement, where the brilliance and impact of individuals from the Global South are celebrated on equal footing with their counterparts from the Global North. It is through this transformation that the Nobel Prize can transcend its legacy and become an emblem of true global recognition and inspiration.

Why can’t 2023 be the year the Nobel’s really begin to promote a more inclusive world?



Saman Rizwan is an independent analyst and frequently writes on politics, gender, and environment. She has a Masters in International Relations from S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU, Singapore and a fellow of the South Asia Democratic Forum. As a journalist and commentator she writes frequently international politics, technology, human rights and gender-based violence, that were published in premiere media outlets like South China Morning Post, The Diplomat, The Nation, Forbes, and Newsweek. She has reported from Southeast Asia, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. She is a former Saman Rizwan is a former researcher at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She lives and works in England.

Image: Adam Baker via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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