Among the many other firsts experienced in her lifetime, Shirin
Ebadi has become the first Iranian and first Muslim woman in
history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded to her Friday,
Oct. 10, 2003.
In attendance, at a conference on Iranian films in human rights
in Paris on Friday, Ebadi received note of her award by telephone.
“When Oslo phoned me, it was a shock,” she said to the AP on
She has joined the history books with the likes of Mother
Theresa and Rigoberta Menchu Tum, as a woman working directly for
peace on the world stage, and she has entered the ranks of Gandhi,
Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, having been imprisoned for
fighting for the human rights a government did not want to give.
Among attention and associations, however, Ebadi knows what it
means to stand alone: in the 1970s, she was the first Muslim woman
to become a judge in Iran.
Later, at the headquarters of International Federation for Human
Rights in Paris: “It means our way is correct, and I must say it
doesn’t belong to only me. It belongs to all the people who work
for human rights and democracy in Iran.”
Above any political interpretations of law, Ebadi is a strong
believer in the enforcement of human rights everywhere, founded on
the principles of democracy and respect for the human voice. Her
principles of activism, as noted in lectures, writings, and legal
work, have been tireless for the advocacy of equality and
democratic treatment of everyone before the law.
Ebadi currently practices as a Human Rights attorney. Ebadi’s
previous cases have resulted in her detention, suspension from
legal practice, and threats to her personal safety. Her steadfast
journey on the road to a more just world, however, only has her
crying out for more activity of her own kind. “Have confidence,
have courage, and know that if we work hard, our struggle will be
victorious,” she has said to young activists, as noted in Human
In the 1990’s, Ebadi created the Society for the Protection of
the Rights of the Child. This was the first officially recognized
NGO for human rights in the history of Iran. Amnesty International
and Human Rights Watch, both major international human rights
watchdogs, wrote articles to praise her noteworthy contributions to
a global audience.
In these major publications, eyes darted from across seas and
regions to give attention to the work of Ebadi.
“I remember first learning about Ebadi when I was researching
women in human rights activism,” said senior Stephanie Garrett, a
Women’s Studies major. “Her belief that human rights are due to
all, no matter what a government may say, has influenced and
inspired my own work, as I travel and work with women for human
rights and social justice.”
Ebadi’s publications on the analysis of Iranian domestic law
under the guise of international human rights standards, is just
one more aspect by which the Nobel winner continually challenges
her country to raise its standards in respecting human life.
In 1999, the Iranian judiciary was using violence and repression
against students who sought to challenge the governmental
practices. Ebadi’s response was seen in her immediate action to
become the lead attorney in consequential cases. This was a year
that Ebadi was already handling the case of a family that had been
the victims of “serial murders,” performed by national security
forces against Iranian writers and intellectuals. This work
resulted in Ebadi’s arrest and detention in the following year.
Upon release, neither energy nor inspiration was lost to the
passionate woman. Though she found herself banned from practicing
law for the next five years by the Iranian government, Ebadi would
not let her devotion slip. In a land that continued to imprison
political prisoners, detain peaceful protestors, and punish
students who spoke out by raiding their dormitories, Ebadi could
not be content to just watch.
Her work flourished, as she directed her energies into the
creation of another large project, the Center for the Defense of
Human Rights. The Center focuses its advocacy on student activists
and journalists who have been imprisoned.
Named for Swedish-born Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Foundation dubs
one individual or group of individuals each year for the Nobel
Peace Prize award. Awards are also given in the fields of
economics, literature, physics, chemistry, and physiology and