Copyright © 2003 Henrietta W. Hay
The Nobel Peace Prize for Shirin Ebadi
October 17, 2003
Heroism comes in different forms. Last week The Nobel Peace Prize went
to -- an Iranian -- a woman -- a truly heroic woman.
Shirin Ebadi, a 56 year old lawyer and author won the valued prize.
Mrs. Ebadi has been an activist for the cause of women and children for
three decades under circumstances where her life was at risk every day.
"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 says.
She is a Muslim and she supports democracy and fights for human rights.
A small, soft spoken woman, she received a law degree from the
University of Tehran and was appointed one of the country's first female
judges. But, not surprisingly in her country, she was forced to resign
after the ayatollahs decided that women were too emotional and
irrational to be judges. The experience, she said afterward, "was like
turning the president of a university into a janitor." Some time later
she spent three weeks in jail.
But she never stopped her campaign for human rights. She now teaches
law at Tehran University.
She has maintained a private life, marrying and raising two daughters.
She has traveled abroad and received an award from Human Rights Watch
in Washington in 1996. She was in Paris when the Nobel Prize winner
was announced. Dressed in an open-necked black suit, she wore red
lipstick and was bareheaded. You can't question her bravery! "It's
very good for me," she said of the award. "It's very good for human
rights in Iran, it's very good for democracy in Iran. If I were living
in a country where the rights of women were respected I wouldn't be as
happy as I am today. " Her monetary award is $1.3 million.
She is an unofficial spokeswoman for Iranian women, who have given her
the nickname "Tehran Lion." She played a key role in the May 1997
landslide presidential election of the reformist Mohamad Khatami and the
activist women have since been striving for a more active role in public
Iranian women, in fact, already have some progress to their credit.
With 14 women in Iran's 270-seat parliament, they enjoy better
representation than their sisters in the US Senate.
More Iranian women than men are going to college, and they are filling
more jobs than ever before.
Although Iranian women can enter most professions, they say a glass
makes it difficult to reach senior positions. American women
recognize that problem.
It is hard for us to understand just what women's lives are like in
Iran. But in reading about this award and reactions to it, I think that
maybe there's not as much difference between us as we have assumed. Our
efforts are not so different than those of women around the world. We
are all sisters under the skin
Women in America did not have as far to go, but the problems were very
similar, although I must admit we generally didn't have to worry about
being shot or stoned or hanged.
The Tehran press was split on the award, of course. The reformist
papers gave it a great deal of space. One editorial said that "Ebadi's
win was a prize for all Iranians." But it also noted that her campaign
still has a long way to go.
The conservative papers barely mentioned the event. One of them
seethed, "She used questions of human rights and children's rights to
establish contacts with foreign organizations and act against the regime
of the Islamic republic of Iran."
I would like to think hat wherever there is oppression, somebody will
arise to combat it. Sometimes the brave die trying, but women like
Ibardi go right on fighting oppression for a lifetime.
My heartiest congratulations to Shirin Ibardi for winning the Nobel, sor
wiling the Nobel, battle forand may she keep up the battle for civil
rights in Iran.