Our woman hero of November is Shirin Ebadi! She is an Iranian political activist, lawyer, a former judge and human rights activist and founder of Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. On 10 October 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her significant and pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights, especially women’s, children’s, and refugee rights. She was the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the prize. In 2004, she was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the “100 most powerful women in the world”. She is also included in a published list of the “100 most influential women of all time.”
Ebadi was born in Hamadan, Iran, on 21 June 1947. She was admitted to the law department of the University of Tehran in 1965 and in 1969, upon graduation, passed the qualification exams to become a judge. In 1975, she became the first woman president of the Tehran city court and served until the 1979 Iranian revolution. She was also the first ever woman judge in Iran. However, Ebadi was demoted to a secretarial position at Tehran city court from her position as president under the insistence from conservative clerics after the 1979 Revolution. Clerics had insisted that Islam prohibits women from becoming judges.
By 2004 Ebadi was lecturing law at the University of Tehran while practicing law in Iran. She is a campaigner for strengthening the legal status of children and women, the latter of which played a key role in the May 1997 landslide presidential election of the reformist Mohammad Khatami. As a lawyer, she is known for taking up pro bono cases of dissident figures who have fallen foul of the judiciary. She has represented the family of a dissident intellectual and politician who was found stabbed to death at his home. Ebadi has defended various child abuse cases and also helped in the drafting of the original text of a law against physical abuse of children, which was passed by the Iranian parliament in 2002.
On 10 October 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts for democracy and human rights, especially for the rights of women and children. The selection committee praised her as a “courageous person” who “has never heeded the threat to her own safety”. However, in Iran, officials of the Islamic Republic were either silent or critical of the selection of Ebadi. In 2009, Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, published a statement reporting that Ebadi’s Nobel Peace Prize had been confiscated by Iranian authorities and that “This [was] the first time a Nobel Peace Prize ha[d] been confiscated by national authorities.” Iran denied the charges.
Ebadi lived in Tehran, but she has been in exile in the UK since June 2009 due to the increase in persecution of Iranian citizens who are critical of the current regime. Since receiving the Nobel Prize Ebadi has lectured, taught and received awards in different countries, issued statements and defended people accused of political crimes in Iran. She has traveled to and spoken to audiences in India, the United States, and other countries; released her autobiography in an English translation. With five other Nobel laureates, she created the Nobel Women’s Initiative to promote peace, justice and equality for women.
In April 2008 Ebadi released a statement saying: “Threats against my life and security and those of my family, which began some time ago, have intensified,” and that the threats warned her against making speeches abroad, and defending Iran’s minority Baha’i community. In December 2008, Islamic authorities close Ebadi’s Center for Defenders of Human Rights, raiding her private office, seizing her computers and files. But despite all that, Shirin Ebadi keeps fighting for democracy and human rights.
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