Although born in 1947 in Hamadan, Iran, jurist Shirin Ebadi moved to the capital, Tehran, with her religious middle-class family. Ebadi is one of the most famous female voices in Islamic reformism and human rights activism for women, children, and refugees in Iran. Her commitment to these issues won her the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize as the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to ever win this award.
In 1969 Ebadi was the first woman appointed as a judge in Iran, and in 1975 she became the president of the National Association of Iranian Magistrates. She was obliged to resign from these positions following the 1978-1979 Islamic Revolution, because, according to a radical interpretation of Islam implemented by the new political leadership, women were considered “too sensitive” to hold such positions. Ebadi herself, extremely critical of the Shah’s regime, initially supported the Islamic revolution. Although Ebadi became certified to practice law in 1984, she was not permitted to exercise her profession until 1993, and that same year, she began to work on defending and promoting women’s rights in a judicial system in which they were, and still are, greatly diminished.
Above all, Ebadi has fought for reform in the marriage laws, trying to gain rights for women to obtain fairer divorce and child custody conditions. Through this work, Ebadi became a leading player in a series of court cases that caused uproar in Iran.
Later on Ebadi took the lead in sponsoring an International Women’s Day in Iran, as well as a series of protest events against Iranian family law.
In addition to having published numerous books, among them, Iran Awakening, A Memoir of Revolution and Hope (Milan 2006), as well as The Golden Cage, Three Brothers, Three Choices, One Destiny (Milan 2008), Ebadi founded the Defenders of Human Rights Centre in Iran and the Society for Protecting the Child’s Rights. These two organizations are NGOs for the defence of human rights, which focus on strengthening the legal status of women and children in Iran.
In 1997 Ebadi played an important role in the campaign supporting reformist president Mohammad Khatami, while continuing with her constant commitment, as a lawyer and an activist, to supporting dissidents persecuted by the regime. Since 2009, the year in which officers belonging to Ahmadinejad’s government broke into her apartment, beat her husband, and seized the Nobel Prize she had won in 2003, she has lived in exile in London. There she continues to work, actively criticizing the Iranian legal system, as well as working on many campaigns for the defence of Iranian human rights.
In 2009, the Iranian regime accused Ebadi, in a very clearly specious manner, of owing the state hundreds of thousands of dollars, and her self-imposed exile following the raid of her home likely saved her from being arrested. In spite of persecution, the jurist has always expressed great love for her country and for Islam, often violently criticizing the defects and political mistakes made by the western world. One should bear in mind her outraged reaction to the radically and often unjustified anti-Islamic positions assumed by the Somali author, now a Dutch citizen, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (see our interview with Shirin Ebadi dated March 9th 2007). In addition to the Nobel Prize she has also won many other acknowledgments, among them many honorary degrees from European and American universities.
Translated by Francesca Simmons