Nobel Peace Laureates

"When there is injustice to one people and there is no way of receiving justice and when several generations live under the poverty line and there is no hope for the improvement of their lives, they may forget their sanity because of hopelessness. And thus they may resort to violence.”
- Shirin Ebadi
Shirin Ebadi was born in northwest Iran in 1947, in the city of Hamedan. When she was one year old, her family moved to Tehran, the capital of Iran. On warm summer evenings, Shirin and her two sisters and brother moved their beds outside to take in the sweet smelling air and the clear night sky.

Growing up, Dr. Ebadi and her brothers were treated as equals by their parents. It wasn’t until she was older that she realized that most Iranian girls were treated differently. In Iran, boys usually got more attention from their fathers. They were allowed more freedom and enjoyed more affection from aunts and female relatives. Girls were expected to be quiet and obedient.

Dr. Ebadi did well in school and her parents encouraged her to become a lawyer. In March 1969, when she was only 22 years old, she became the first woman in the history of Iran to serve as a judge. While serving as a judge, Dr. Ebadi continued her education and received a doctorate in law from Tehran University in 1971.

Hear Shirin Ebadi explain why the Global Call to Action is so important.

The Islamic Revolution

In the 1970’s, Iran was in a state of unrest. At that time, Iran was a monarchy, and the ruler, called the Shah was a very brutal dictator. In 1979 the Shah was overthrown, but instead of a democracy as many hoped for, a religious government came to power. The new government was headed by Islamic clerics, lead by the chief cleric, the Ayatollah. They believed in a government in which women and minorities did not have equal rights.

One of the first moves by the new rulers of Iran was to take away rights for women. Now it was no longer legal for women to serve as judges. All female judges were dismissed from their posts and given clerical jobs. Dr. Ebadi, outraged by the situation, requested an early retirement. For several years she stayed at home taking care of her two daughters, writing books, and working to get her job back.

In 1992, after many years of trying to return to her job as a judge, Dr. Ebadi succeeded in getting a lawyer's license and set up her own practice. As a lawyer, she has made it a point to take cases that involved the unfair treatment of women and children. Dr, Ebadi became one of the most well-known lawyers in Iran, someone who wasn’t afraid to stand up for people who had been denied their rights. She has represented the families of serial murder victims as well as victims of child abuse.

In 1999, a student and poet named Ezzat Ebrahiminejad was shot by police during a demonstration at Tehehran University. Dr, Ebadi helped his family sue the government, but the court dismissed the case, saying that it didn’t matter because Ebrahiminejad was already dead.

Fighting Injustice

In 2003, Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts for peace and women's rights in Iran and across the Middle East. She says she has always believed in standing up for justice and to protect those who were the victims of oppression. She explains her attitude this way:

“From childhood, I fell in love with a phenomenon I later learned was justice, When I was a child and saw other children fighting I would go aid the underdog, without even knowing what they were fighting about, which would also cause me to get in the middle and get beaten. That is why I later became a student of law. And later, because of this feeling, I became a judge, as I thought I could help execute and bring about justice. When the Islamic Revolution came about and said a woman could no longer be a judge, I changed my job, and became a lawyer. It was the same feeling that encouraged me to become active in defending human rights.”

Several years ago, Dr. Ebadi began to receive threats of prison and even death from the Iranian government. Regardless, she continued her work human rights and challenged the unjust treatment of people in Iran. “Human rights is a universal standard,” she says.” It is a component of every religion and every civilization.”

In December 2008 the Iranian government shut down Dr. Ebadi's Center for Defenders of Human Rights, raided her private office, and seized her computers and files that contained sensitive information on the victims she was defending.

Dr. Ebadi has lived in exile in the U.K. since June 2009, unable to return home to Iran, where her husband still resides. She continues to work for human rights around the world.