LESSONS FROM THE 2003 NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER: SHIRIN EBADI
“Human right is a universal standard. It is a component of every religion and every civilization”
Shirin Ebadi, Iranian social justice champion made the above statement in a speech to millions of women at the inauguration of the Nobel Women Initiative in Canada in 2006. That statement embodies the essence of Shirin’s life and works contributing to peace in Iran.
Shirin is an Iranian political and human rights activist, a lawyer as well as the Founder of Defenders of Human Rights Center in 2001 in Iran who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 in recognition of her outstanding work fighting inequalities and social deprivation in Iran. It was a long walk to recognition for her as the first Muslim woman to win the prize.
Born on June 21, 1947, to the family of Professor of Law, Prof Mohammed Ali Ebadi in the northwestern state of Hamedan in Iran. Shirin’s family soon moved to the capital city, Tehran, in search of greener pastures. She had her education in the capital city and graduated from the Department of Law, the University of Tehran in 1969. She quickly followed up with an internship at the Ministry of Justice that lasted six months and became the first female Judge in Iran. Achieving such a feat at a tender age inspired her to pursue her doctorate and become a Chief Magistrate in 1975 breaking records as both the youngest person and the first woman to attain such a height. However, the 1979 Islamic Revolution led to her demotion from that coveted position to that of a clerk in the same court she presided over.
Undeterred by this major setback, she applied to practice law privately which was rejected severally keeping her out of practice for over a decade. She devoted this period to writing books and advocating for human rights which unfortunately led to her incarceration for 4 weeks and subsequent imprisonment for 18 months. Shirin has been a champion for human rights especially of women and children. She founded the Society for Protecting the Rights of Child in 1995 and the Human Rights Defender Centre in 2001 to cater for the most vulnerable populations in Iran. Shirin’s advocacy for human rights, child rights and democracy drew admiration from Iranian citizens and the international community leading to her award of the distinguished Nobel Peace Prize. In the aftermath of the award, she scaled up her impact and founded the Nobel Women Initiatives to promote human rights with a focus on women and children rights as well as democracy across the globe.
What lessons can we draw from Shirin’s work as youth peacebuilders?
The following comes easily to my mind.
- Youth as the centerpiece of human right advocacy
From my experience promoting peace at Building Blocks for Peace Foundation, young people are creative and determined enough to make sufficient impact in their societies. Shirin’s story reminds us of the glass ceilings she broke in her career and advocacy for the vulnerable section of the society as a young woman. She rose to the limiting factors in Iranian society and triumphed against all odds. As a young person, face your fears with courage just as Shirin did.
2. Adopt non-violent methods to create lasting change in your local community.
Young people do not need to counter violence with force. Mahatma Gandhi said that ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’. It is possible to make changes by different non-violent means. Non-violence is at the heart of BBFORPEACE’s strategy through peace education campaigns for young people. Shirin chose to use the law to fight for the oppressed rather than violate the law.
3. Be a peace ambassador always
It is not enough for you to be propagating peace and security within your community or society while your actions speak otherwise. Imagine if Shirin stood aloof when it was time to defend those in need, that will surely have brought no change and her desire to make a change would have been a mere wish. Stand for what you believe in and make sure your actions reflect what your words convey.
There are no excuses to give for not getting involved in changing your society. Shirin grew up in a very conservative environment that did not give her room to harness her abilities freely. The volatility of the region towards women rights, the frustration of demotion in her chosen career, the imprisonment was what defined her early life, yet she forged ahead purposefully. So, shelve that excuse and get to work and make that change that your society needs. There is that one person somewhere waiting to be rescued by you, but here you are, still contemplating. Show up!
Research Lead, Building Blocks for Peace Foundation