Shirin Ebadi: The fight for Human Rights in the Middle East

Topics: Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini, Islam Pages: 7 (2475 words) Published: December 9, 2013
The fight for human rights has been a lengthy struggle around the world. Many people in the Islamic state of Iran, particularly women and children, have suffered through a life long battle of the government limiting their natural rights, such as freedom and equality, due to religious traditions colliding with the state. Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, is a courageous, kind-hearted woman who was determined to help the people of her country gain their freedoms. Although Shirin Ebadi is widely known for her fight for the justice of women and children, a few critics have considered Ebadi’s efforts as small or limited in shaping reform; however, Ebadi fought her hardest for the freedom her people deserved, and helped her self and others achieve simple goals they thought they could never reach.

The plight of women in Iran has not always been so dire. Between the years from 1925 to 1979, Iranian women benefited greatly from the government’s policies. They had education available, the right to vote, and the right to run in the parliament. However following the Iranian revolution in 1979, when under the new regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s new government gave priority to Islamic tradition, favoring male dominance. Women were suddenly stripped of their rights and benefits, and treated as unequals compared to men. Laura Sector from the New York Times writes in her book review of A Memoir of Revolution and Hope, by Shirin Ebadi, “One day in 1980, the country’s new Islamic penal code- adopted overnight and without discussion-appeared in the newspaper. A woman’s life was to be worth half a man’s in the eyes of the law. Criminal penalties and relations between the sexes were to be set back 1400 years…” (Sector, A Dissenting Voice). Shirin Ebadi was of course one of the women who struggled with this loss of rights, considering she was a judge, and women were no longer allowed to have government positions. Ebadi was stripped from her judgeship and demoted to a courtroom clerk. Sector writes again, “Ebadi’s head pounded with rage as she read it.” (Sector, A Dissenting Voice). Ebadi says in her memoir, “The grim statues that I would spend the rest of my life fighting stared back at me from the page.” (Shirin Ebadi, A Memior of Revolution and Hope). At that moment, Ebadi new she had to take action and help women climb to equality again in Iran.  

During this initial period of Khomeini’s rule, the government made it very difficult for women to leave home. Women who insisted on working were pushed into traditional, stereotypical female fields in the work industry, such as teaching and nursing.  Politically, women had the right to vote and run for the parliament, but most were dismissed, demoted or given early retirement.  Some tried to run in presidential elections, but most were disqualified immediately. Women were also required to follow the Islamic dress code, and wear the traditional hejab, a piece of clothing worn on their head, to cover their hair and most of their face.  Girls as young as six years old also had to follow the strict dress code.  Showing hair and skin was punishable, ranging from fines to physical lashes, which was the Islamic Law of Retribution. (Esfandiari, The Women’s Movement). Just like all the other women in Iran, Ebadi was forced to follow these strict laws, which was a trigger for her to start her activism in Iran, since it directly affected her too.

Law’s in Iran that were once in favor of women were repealed. One law that was suspended was the Family Protection Law. Before 1979, this law stated that Women had the right to petition for divorce and gain custody of their children. When Kohmeni took over, the law was immediately repealed, and men were free to divorce their wives by simple declaration, and they also gained exclusive custody of their children. Women were prevented from filing divorce and many lost custody of their...
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