12/27/2011 12:01 EST | Updated 02/26/2012 05:12 EST

The Biggest Story of 2011 for Us? Brave African Women

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For us, the biggest story of last year is the recognition of African women as vital agents of social change.

In March, we quoted Nawara Belal, who marched along with her Cairo-based feminist group and thousands more fearless women, against Hosni Mubarak's regime. "Our sincerest hope is that we are remembered as Women of the Revolution." They were joined by their male counterparts and rallied in Cairo's Tahrir Square, shunning cultural norms in one of the world's most patriarchal nations to stand in solidarity for human rights.

In December, Egypt held its first free elections in six decades. And Mubarak, charged with complicity in the killing of protestors, is now standing trial--the first time in modern Arab history that the public is trying its own leader.

But the struggle--and their sacrifice--is far from over. Recent uprisings against Egypt's interim military rule have descended into violence, even death for some 14 protestors. Security forces are accused of targeting women with vengeful, brutal beatings. The women have garnered international support, with harsh reprimands from the U.N. and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

One woman who embodies such courage and determination in the face of incredible adversity is Africa's first female Head of State, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She graciously welcomed us for breakfast at her home last year, where she humbly spoke of rebuilding a nation flattened by civil war. "Every time you overcome an obstacle it re-energizes you," she told us that day. "I want to do the things that people think cannot be done."

In 2011, President Sirleaf was not only re-elected, but also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, jointly with two female activist peers, for their peaceful fight for women's rights. We can't think of more deserving or timely recipients.

The emergence and celebration of African women as leaders isn't just the biggest story of last year for us; it's one which will hopefully have far-reaching implications in the future for a more peaceful and compassionate global community.