Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi spoke at Campbell Hall on Sunday about women’s role in instituting peace and democracy in the Middle East as well as her criticisms of gender inequity worldwide.
Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, was awarded the honor in 2003 for her activism in global issues such as human rights, gender equality and democratic progress. Ebadi was one of the first female judges in Iran and served as President of the Tehran City Court from 1975 to 1979, but was removed from the position following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Ebadi’s lecture — delivered in her native language of Farsi, followed by an interpreter’s English translation — emphasized the correlation between democracy and women’s rights.
“A democracy is a society where people are equal and have control of their destiny,” she said. “One of the characteristics of democracy is when all people have equal rights. … The equality of women is the introduction to real democracy in any nation. Even [Iranian men] know that democracy will be brought to Iran with the hands of the powerful women of Iran.”
Ebadi said while life has improved for Iranian women since the 1970s, when Islamic law was more strictly enforced, misogyny and discrimination remain imbedded in Iranian policies.
“For women, compensation for getting [injured] is half that a man receives. The testimony of two women in court equals the testimony of one man. A man can marry four wives and divorce his wife as he pleases, but divorce is very difficult for women,” Ebadi said. “In [theocratic] law, it’s provided that if a man sees his wife in bed with another man, he can kill the woman and the man and not be held accountable for his actions.”
According to Edabi, inequality’s grip on the nation stems from the government’s use of religious texts to justify the oppression of women.
“When I say [patriarchic culture], it’s not the male culture, but a wrong culture that does not believe in the equality of human beings,” Ebadi said. “This wrong culture uses everything for its justification; it uses religion as a justification and interprets religion so that the interests of this culture are protected.”
As a result, Ebadi said widespread education of women is a top priority in the fight against discrimination.
“Although women are victims of this culture, sometimes they follow along too. What counts is to inform women — let them know the different aspects of this wrong culture so they can fight it,” Ebadi said.
Second-year global studies major Alena Nelson, who has read Ebadi’s book Iran Awakening, said Ebadi approaches the issue of women’s rights from a logical standpoint and is one of the most successful examples of advocates whose work brings about true change.
“I think that her point about changing laws but also changing culture is really valid,” Nelson said. “There’s definitely the idea that we need to be aware of inequality in the world to fix it, and that standing up for what you believe in, even if it makes a little change at first, is essential.”
UCSB ’89 alumna and Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation Vice-President Christie Glanville said Ebadi sets the standard for activism and serves as an inspirational paradigm for progressive women around the world.
“Women like her are opening the minds of leaders in the Middle East,” Glanville said. “Bringing her passion and her wealth of knowledge to the university is [one of] the ways our world can see change.”