Shirin Ebadi

Bangkok Post - Sunday, April 24, 2005

“I believe in the kind of Islam where there’s equality between men and women… Islam is the religion of equality. Islam is not compatible with dictatorship and is against it. Muslims should not allow the deceitful oppressors to use the name of Islam. Shirin Ebadi Human-Rights Lawyer, Iran”

In Iran, all women, regardless of whether they’re Muslims, must wear a veil. Refusal to do so is a warrant for flogging.

”In France they force [Muslim] women in schools to take their veils off. It’s wrong either way. Women should have the freedom to choose,” Ebadi said.

The good news is that today, many Iranian women are enjoying greater gender equality, given the fact that 63 percent of students in Iranian universities are women.

However, even the country’s female vice president, Masoumeh Ebtekar, would need her husband’s written permission to travel abroad on state duty. (Then same holds true for other married Iranian women who wish to travel far. Single women need their father’s consent.)

”Even this lady [the vice president], if she wants to go to the United Nations to represent Iran, she has to beg her husband to give her permission to go and represent the country,” said Ebadi.

”These law [introduced since the revolution] are in direct confrontation with the Iranian culture and the culture of educated Iranian women.”

Ebadi said gender inequality stems from the historical patriarchal culture, which she stresses doesn’t necessarily mean male domination.

“What I mean by that is the equality as human beings isn’t recognized by this culture.”

Most Iranian women, including Ebadi, worked for the revolution in the belief that its main goal would be independence and freedom.

”I am a strong believer that God created human beings in different shapes and forms and of different opinions. Despite all these differences, we have one thing in common: we’re all human beings and just human beings – nothing more or less. And because of that nobody is superior to anyone else.”

Ebadi said the feminist movement in Iran has been gaining strength and has succeeded in changing many laws, though the government has never agreed to international conventions on women’s rights.

Ebadi was jailed in 2000 for allegedly producing and distributing a videotape that contained what the authorities called “disturbing public opinion”.

In January this year, she was summoned to answer questions before the Revolutionary Court. Ebadi refused to show up because she was given no details about the reasons for her appearance. She has since been receiving death threats by phone and mail.

”I’m scared [to continue my work], but after many years of being an activist, I have learned not to allow fear to stop me from what I’m doing.”

Ebadi believes Iranian feminists must link up with the international women’s movement to carry on the struggle.

”There is no way that any country, any society, could separate itself from the rest of their world,” she said. “We have a long way before complete equality, [but] Iranian women are determined to continue their fight, and I believe we will win.”

Some of the above quotes came from a dialog organized by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation, Forum Asia and the Peace and Culture Foundation.