|Biographical detail : ||First Muslim woman to win the Noble peace prize.
Shirin Ebadi a lawyer in Tehran since 1984 has taken up a variety of cases, driven by tough determination and a belief that equal rights for women and children are compatible with Islam. She has worked closely with members of parliament and senior clerics to revise laws governing divorce and to end “blood money” and execution by stoning.
Mrs Ebadi’s growing public campaigning of recent years has reflected a new openness in Iranian society fostered by Muhammad Khatami, elected as president in 1997. She has long argued that Iranian women, who now claim 63 per cent of university places, enjoy higher social status than their peers elsewhere in the Middle East.
In her most celebrated case she acted for the family of Leila Fathi, a nine-year old girl raped and killed by three men in western Iran some 10 years ago. Mrs Ebadi though had limited success in the case but she won support for her campaign against the disparity in “blood money” from Yousef Saanei, a grand ayatollah in Qom.
Mrs Ebadi has launched a non-governmental organisation, the Centre of the Defenders of Human Rights, which will benefit from the Noble prize of $1.3m awarded by the Norwegian Noble committee. She stands out for her single-minded commitment to human rights without ties to partisan politics or polemics.
Mrs Ebadi, a lawyer, lecturer, writer and activist, was appointed an Iran’s first female judge in 1974. She stepped down after the 1979 revolution that decreed that all judges be male.
In her book, ‘Iran Awakening’, a riveting memoir, she recounts the changes that have engulfed Iran from the days of the Shah to the Islamic revolution, through her own experiences and those around her. She strongly argues that change in Iran must come peacefully from within when the Iranians are ready, and not when the West decides it should be so.
Shirin Ebadi’s distinction of wining the Noble peace prize in 2003 will raise the flagging morale of Iran’s reformists. It is also a signal that the real clash of the 21st century is not between civilisations but between the mass of Muslims who want political freedom and the often pseudo-westernised elites who would deny them.