Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, spoke to a full house at Campbell Hall on Monday night about democracy, human rights and gender-based discrimination.
Ebadi gave her lecture in Farsi, her native language, but a interpreter was on hand to translate her words into English. The event was hosted by Arts & Lectures, the UCSB Center for Middle East Studies, the Office of the Chancellor and the Direct Relief International charity. Ebadi is the first Iranian Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She practiced law in Iran throughout the 1970s and was the first woman judge in an Iranian court of law, a position she lost in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution.
Ebadi used much of her speech to address discrimination against women, which she said is a worldwide problem.
“We can scarcely find a country where discrimination against women doesn’t take place,” Ebadi said. “Sometimes this oppression is hidden and sometimes it is overt.”
The West teaches women to not respect themselves and their bodies, Ebadi said.
“In the West, the body of a woman is often used as an instrument,” she said. “For a small wage, women are forced to undress to help sell products.”
The laws in many countries in the Middle East promote gender discrimination, Ebadi said.
“Up until a few years ago, women in Saudi Arabia weren’t issued birth certificates, which means they weren’t considered citizens,” Ebadi said. “Even now they aren’t allowed to drive their own cars. A law made in 1990 in Iran makes the value of the life of a woman half that of a man … and in many instances women are not allowed to speak in a court of law.”
Ebadi said the human rights problems in the Middle East were not a result of the Islamic religion but rather of the societal structure.
“Islam as a religion accepts the equality between man and woman,” Ebadi said. “What leads to the unequal treatment in some of the Middle East is the patriarchal culture, which oppresses both women and men. It doesn’t reflect democracy or equality between people. It is a tribal culture.”
Although democracy promotes equality and human rights to an extent, Ebadi said, there are flaws in its design.
“Democracy has pitfalls that must be avoided,” she said. “Let us not forget that Hitler … and many of the world’s dictators came to power through the majority vote. Democracy must be executed within the framework of human rights.”
In addition, Ebadi said democracy and human rights are not legitimate reasons for war.
“Human rights can’t be abused in the name of democracy,” Ebadi said. “In the name of human rights, no nation should attack another nation. Human rights can’t be poured upon people’s heads with cluster bombs, can’t be exported with battle guns. Democracy only materializes through the will of the people.”
Pamela Cash, a fourth-year English and art studio major, said she liked how Ebadi recognized that the violation of human rights is a global problem, present in both democratic and nondemocratic countries.
“I like that she considered patriarchy a worldwide problem that affects men and women,” Cash said. “I think people tend to consider the U.S. completely liberated and the East backward, when actually the entire world is struggling with issues of oppression.”