Thu Oct 12, 2006 , Reuters
By Alister Doyle
OSLO (Reuters) – Women candidates might have slightly better chances than men to win the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday from a secretive committee with a female majority aware that just 12 women have won since 1901.
"We are always looking for good women and we have nothing to be particularly proud of. We have selected 12 women, 80 men and 20 organisations" since 1901, Geir Lundestad, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, told Reuters.
Female candidates, according to a bookmaker, are led by Rebiya Kadeer, who campaigns from exile for ethnic Uighur rights in China, and include U.S. anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan and Chechen human rights lawyer Lydia Yusupova.
Lundestad denied any pro-female bias since the current Norwegian Nobel Committee was appointed in 2003, with a 3-2 female majority for the first time. The winner will be announced on Friday in Oslo at 0900 GMT from 191 candidates.
Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi won in 2003 and Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai in 2004, only the second time since 1901 with consecutive female winners.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi won in 1991 and Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu in 1992.
Last year, the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the award went to the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog and its head, Mohamed ElBaradei.
"We had three women (peace laureates) in the 1990s…and we have had two recently," Lundestad said. "So we are moving in the right direction but not forcing the issue."
"Our record in this respect is not outstanding unless you compare it with the other Nobel prizes, especially the science prizes," Lundestad said. The other 2006 prizes, from Medicine to Literature, have all gone to men.
Kadeer is second on a bookmaker's ranking of tips behind those involved in a peace deal for Indonesia's Aceh province.
Stein Toennesson, the head of the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, tips Kadeer third after former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who brokered the Aceh peace deal, and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for his role in the pact.
"It is a long time since the prize has been awarded to a Chinese, and the Committee may also be looking to give the prize to a Muslim, and especially a woman," Toennesson wrote. He noted, however, that Kadeer lives in exile in the United States.
Some other experts say that the field is wide open and that the 2003 and 2004 awards do not point to a pro-female bias.
"It would not be urgent to think in gender terms this year," said Sverre Lodgaard, head of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.
Lundestad said in a 2001 speech that the committee would have to speak out "sooner rather than later" about a lack of democratic rights in China after an award to the Dalai Lama in 1989.
"We have already commented on the situation in China," he said when asked if a prize to a Chinese dissident was imminent.
"We have not been afraid to take on totalitatian regimes and these are some of our finest moments," he said, referring to awards including in 1935 to Carl von Ossietzky, an anti-Nazi journalist, or in 1983 to then Polish dissident Lech Walesa.