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Iranian Nobel Laureate Pleas for Women's Rights in Islamic Countries - 2004-03-08


The Iranian woman and human rights activist who won last year's Nobel Peace Prize says democracy is the best way to achieve equal rights for women in Islamic societies. Shirin Ebadi made an impassioned plea for justice and human rights for women at a forum organized by the International Labor Organization to mark International Women's Day.

Ms. Ebadi wore black for the occasion in protest of the unequal treatment of women in Iran and elsewhere in the world. "In our national culture, this is an expression of mourning," she said. "I, today, am in mourning for women's rights in Iran and in the world. Women are the last group to benefit from democracy and social benefits."

Ms. Ebadi says discrimination in Iran against women is universal. Women, she says, need their husbands' permission to work and can be divorced by their husbands without any explanation. A woman's word in the courts counts for half of a man's.

She says women are the first to suffer when justice, democracy and freedom are undermined.

Ms. Ebadi says real Islam is being misinterpreted by those who wish to impose their views on others.

"Unfortunately, some Islamic governments state that democracy is incompatible with Islam," said Ms. Ebadi. "But they in fact are misusing the name of Islam. They are promoting their own beliefs and their own undemocratic practices and doing so in the name of Islam, imposing those beliefs on the people. A correct interpretation of Islam can provide respect for democracy. So my ideal is democracy for Islamic countries."

The Nobel laureate also criticized the recent parliamentary elections in which hundreds of reformist candidates were disqualified by the Guardian Council. She says she did not vote in the elections because the process was a sham.

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