Lawyer, professor, and human rights champion Shirin Ebadi has worked for women’s rights and human rights for more than three decades.
A graduate of Tehran University, Ebadi was the first female judge in her country, Iran, and served as president of Bench 24 of the Tehran city court beginning in 1975. With the advent of the Islamic Republic in 1979, she was forced to resign her seat and was only allowed to clerk in the court she once presided over. Protesting this position, she and other female judges were promoted to the position of “experts” in the Justice Department. But Ebadi soon retired from the city court and only returned to law in 1992 when she was finally able to obtain a lawyer’s license and set up her own practice.
Since then, Ebadi has fought censorship, defended women’s rights, and has played a key role in the reform of family laws in Iran; she has sought changes in divorce and inheritance legislation, and defended women’s rights activists who were not finding representation elsewhere. She soon became famous for taking on the kind of politically sensitive cases many Iranian lawyers would not dream of touching, including the defense of two liberal intellectuals Daryoush and Parvaneh Forouhar, who were stabbed to death in a series of killings in 1998 which turned out to be the work of “rogue elements” in the Intelligence Ministry. In 2003, Ebadi became the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her brave, intelligent fight for human rights. “Any person who pursues human rights in Iran must live with fear from birth to death, but I have learned to overcome my fear,” she said in a 1999 interview.
Born in northwestern Iran in 1947, Ebadi is the author of numerous papers and articles for Iranian journals, and is the author of Iran Awakening: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim her Life and Country (2007) and Refugee Rights in Iran (2008). Married with two college-age children, she continues to practice law in Tehran, despite continued resistance, regulations, and political unease. She is also a founder, with six other female Nobel winners, of the Women’s Nobel Prize Initiative, a nonprofit based in Canada that works for women’s rights internationally. She is also the founder one of the first independent, nongovernmental human rights organizations in Iran: The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child.
Excerpt from Iran Awakening (2007)
I decided to write an article for the magazine Iran-e Farda, in approachable language, rather than in an overly intellectual or legalistic style, that would set out in stark terms women’s inferior status in the penal code. The section of the code devoted to blood money, diyeh, holds that if a man suffers an injury that damages his testicles, he is entitled to compensation equal to a woman’s life. I put it this way in my article: if a professional woman with a PhD is run over in the street and killed and an illiterate thug gets one of his testicles injured in a fight, the value of her life and his damaged testicle are equal. There is a vulgar expression in Persian that conveys deep contempt for someone: “You’re not even worth one of my testicles.” I politely invoked this in my article, to explain in terms no Iranian could mistake just how outrageous these laws were, how they treated women as nonpeople. In the end I posed a question: Is this really how the Islamic Republic regards its women?
The article both titillated and electrified literate Tehran. The editor had published it eagerly, aware that it would, like much of the magazine’s content, provoke the hard-line judiciary. The issue sold out immediately, and people showed up at the magazine’s offices, begging for even a photocopy of the article. I was stunned. I had expected that it might circulate widely, but I’d never thought it would resound this way throughout the city. A hard-line member of parliament threatened me publicly, telling reporters, “Someone stop this woman, or we’ll shut her up ourselves.” When I heard this, I realized for the first time that the system might actually fear me and the growing public resonance with my work.
Refugee Rights in Iran (2008)
Iran Awakening: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim her Life and Country (2007)
Autobiography from Nobelprize.org
Profile from BBC News
“Shirin Ebadi: Don’t Attack Iran” by Robert Dreyfuss for the Nation
On American scholar Haleh Esfandiari’s release from Iranian jail; Ebadi was her lawyer