Plenary Connections - Shirin Ebadi

February 14, 2017

By Lars Heikensten

Dr. Shirin Ebadi was the first female Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from the Islamic world.

The lawyer Shirin Ebadi was Iran’s first female judge. After Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution in 1979 she was dismissed. Ebadi opened a legal practice and began defending people who were being persecuted by the authorities. In the year 2000, she was imprisoned herself for having criticized her country’s hierocracy (rule of government by priests or ecclesiastics).

Shirin Ebadi took up the struggle for fundamental human rights and especially the rights of women and children. She took part in the establishment of organizations that placed these issues on the agenda, and wrote books proposing amendments to Iran’s succession and divorce laws. She also wanted to withdraw political power from the clergy and advocated for the separation of religion and state.

In its choice of Ebadi, the Committee for the Nobel Peace Prize expressed a wish to reduce the tensions between the Islamic and the Western world following the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001. At the same time, the Committee wished to extend a helping hand to the Iranian reform movement. Shirin Ebadi underlines herself that she sees no contradiction between Islam and fundamental human rights.

The Iranian authorities have, after the Peace Prize award for Ebadi in 2003, conducted a systematic harassment of her and her family.

She herself was denied to work as a lawyer in Iran and was forced into exile. The authorities also confiscated the prize money and the gold medal. She has shown admirable courage and strength, but there is no doubt that her fight for women's rights in Iran has had its price, and demanded great sacrifices for Shirin Ebadi and her family.

It is a strong and courageous woman who has made great contributions to humanity that we will meet at the NAFSA 2017 Annual Conference & Expo.


Lars Heikensten is the Executive Director of the Nobel Foundation


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