Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and pro-democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen were recognized "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work," the committee said in a release.
"We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society," the committee said.
Since her inauguration in 2006, Sirleaf, Africa's first female elected head of state, has contributed to securing peace in Liberia, promoting economic and social development and strengthening the position of women, the committee said.
Gbowee has mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious lines to help end the nearly 15-year war in Liberia and to ensure women's participation in elections.
Before and during the pro-democracy revolution known as the "Arab spring" that swept across northern Africa and the Middle East, Karman played a key role in the fight for women's rights, democracy and peace in Yemen.
"It is the Norwegian Nobel Committee's hope that the prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realize the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent," the committee said.
Human rights group Amnesty International praised the selection of the winners.
"The tireless work of these and countless other activists brings us closer to a world where women will see their rights protected and enjoy growing influence at all levels of government," Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's secretary-general, said in a statement.
"Today it is not just these three leading women who are being celebrated, but everyone who has fought for human rights and equality in their societies. The Nobel Committee's choice this year will encourage women everywhere to continue fighting for their rights."