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Events: Shirin Ebadi

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Shirin EbadiShirin Ebadi
Islam, Democracy & Human Rights
Monday, May 17 / 8 pm / Campbell Hall

Shirin Ebadi is the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. An Iranian lawyer and human rights activist who served in the 1970s as one of the first female judges in her country, Ebadi won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her tireless work on the behalf of democracy and the rights of women and children in Iran. Her talk will be in Farsi, with English translation.

Co-presented by the UCSB Center for Middle East Studies, the Office of the Chancellor and Direct Relief International.

Below is Shirin Ebadi's speech,
translation by Firoozeh Papan-Matin.


I am delighted to speak with you at this distinguished institute today. I would like to thank all the individuals and institutions that have facilitated my trip to Santa Barbara; particularly, Arts and Lectures, Office of the Chancellor, Direct Relief International, and the Center for Middle East Studies. Several years ago, my brother Jafar was a student here; he received his Ph. D. in economics from this very university. Once, many years ago, I came here and enjoyed the beauty and calm of this city. Afterwards, I always told myself that I should return here and enjoy this environment. And today that I am here, I think to myself again that I should return here in the future and let the natural peace and beauty of this city penetrate my soul and bring me calm and tranquility. My discussion today is also on the relationship between peace and one's inner peace. Since Santa Barbara is a city that has a tradition of women's rights and many offices and jobs here are administered by women, I have decided to focus my talk on women and their role in respect to peace.

Shirin EbadiThere is a proverb in Persian that says there are two worlds: the world that is within us and the world outside. Power of humankind is the mystery of creation: the relationship among the cells of the body. Genetic influences, feelings, and affections, are all expressions of the internal world. Mankind perceives the external world through the world within and connects with it: a melody sounds soothing to his ear, music is created; he observes the nature, experiences the colors and feels its beauties. If humans were created without the sense of hearing, could music come into being? If humans, like some of the animals, were created without sight, could paintings be created?

With this introduction, I intend to refer to the question "How can we talk about peace in society without feeling that peace within ourselves?" It is internal peace that leads to external peace.

Nature has endowed women with the gift to be the ground and the foundation for internal peace. We should remember that each individual is formed and fostered inside the body of a woman. Contemporary advances in science have provided us with the opportunity to know how the emotional states of a mother--her feelings of fear and insecurity, anxiety, humility, or on the contrary, all aspects of the feelings of calm and security-prompted by psychological, social and economical concerns, can affect the infant before and after it is born. At the same time, we know that the formation of anyone's personality is decisively marked in those very first years up to age 7. A mother can play a fundamental role in the character formation of the child. This child can be the very politician, scientist, economist, or investment merchant of the future, or a teacher, worker, or nurse; in sum, any of the individuals who play a role in building their own society.

Shirin EbadiPeace is not a decree or a protocol that can be, for instance, issued to a person who at age 40, holds a distinguished position and status and can exercise the power of decision making over the lives of a multitude or even one person. This person must have learned how to respect the rights of others, from the first years of his life, and in his mother's embrace, as his character was getting shaped. He must have learned how to avoid violence even in its simplest forms; how to understand and recognize his/her own rights and demand them; how to recognize and understand tranquility and consider it as the most valuable jewel of life: a tranquility that is attained through peace of mind, a peace that is attained through the flourishing of one's abilities and, at the same time, by not hurting others or infringing on their rights. Such a child enjoys a high degree of self-confidence, and more than anything else and most importantly loves and respects himself; this is the building stone of having love and respect for others.

In contrast, a person who is humiliated lacks self-confidence, and is constantly in a position of self-defense. Later, when he/she enters the society and reaches influential positions in the domain of his job, family, city, or a larger expanse such as his/her country or the world, in spite of numerous memos, directives, and guidelines, cannot deeply desire peace, like all people, and perceive them by their individual identity and not as numbers and statistics, or take the rights of one person as seriously as the rights of a nation.

Shirin EbadiLet's come back to the beginning of this discussion. How can a mother whose rights are breached, lives her life in insecurity and stress, cannot employ her potentials and capabilities, and in one word is humiliated and surrendered, even if she may be aware of her own responsibilities, be expected to transfer to her child the qualities of internal self-confidence, respect for the rights of others, and avoid violence?

Indeed, in order to reach a better and more humane world, there is no alternative but to provide the conditions for a better and more humane existence, for all members of the society on an equal basis, men and women, by relying on the capabilities of each one of them.
But another aspect of the feminine spirit, which goes beyond gender, is also necessary for the endurance of peace. That means, a man looking within himself and finding the feminine side of himself can reach the procreative and affectionate role of a woman and can utilize that in his decision-makings. Women can take pride in this aspect of their being and due to historic suppression, do not consciously or unconsciously deny it. And in order to prove their abilities, some turn to dominance in its multifaceted expressions in a sham way.

The world needs peace in order to survive and have tranquility. And peace needs Anima and the famine and procreative spirit of women in order to sustain itself.

But let's turn to the reality of women's lives in the world today.

Shirin EbadiFew countries can be found where the condition of women is favorable and removed from unjust prejudice, sexual abuse, disregard for personal merits, etc. There is no doubt, that woman is under oppression. In the final analysis, some times this oppression is overt and sometimes concealed. Sometimes the law justifies this oppression; in other instances, although the law insists on equality, it is not enforced. What is undisputable is the unequal status of men and women. All over the world, depending on the country they are in and the culture they belong to, this oppression varies and is weakened or intensified.

In the United States of America and most of the European countries, women complain about lack of inequality in certain social opportunities. In these countries, the law does not operate against women. It offers both men and women equal rights. But women, because of the dual responsibilities that they have both at home and in the society, have fewer possibilities to employ these rights. And in other words, cannot use their opportunities. That is why we can see that in most countries of the US and Europe, the number of women who have entered the parliament or achieved sensitive social positions is considerably less than men. In order to amend this problem, the European parliament recently legislated a law that in a way made political parties obligated to introduce an equal number of men and women as candidates. But women are still unequal to men in using social opportunities. It is enough to take a look at the parliament of European countries that are in fact the forerunners of western civilization. It is at this point that we realize to what extent women have used their opportunities. Seldom in a country is the number of men and women equal in the parliament. Almost in all European countries and also in the US the number of male ministers is much higher than that of women. Sensitive economic jobs are exclusively in the hands of men. Scarcely any woman is seen in a high position at these types of occupation.

Another issue in the western world is using a woman's body as an instrument. For advertising the commodities that must be sold, women are forced to undress for a small wage and by displaying their body, help the manufacturers sell a commodity.

Shirin EbadiBut the situation of women in the Islamic countries is unfavorable in a different manner. And of course, depending on the country this situation is more forceful or subdued. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, until some years ago women were not even issued a birth certificate. Meaning, they were not even considered citizens. Now that they are considered citizens, they are deprived of many of their rights. Not only can't they participate in the parliament, they cannot even drive their own car. In Bahrain and Yemen, and many other Islamic countries, although women are considered citizens, they are second-class citizens. And the rights enjoyed by a man is never applied to them. Polygamy is prevalent and impossible to avoid. The opinion of a father at the time of the marriage of his daughter is required and inevitable to avoid.
In the majority of Islamic countries, the number of boys she has given birth to defines a woman's respect. Even in certain areas, women are not called and addressed by their own names, but by the name of their sons.

In Iran, even though 63% of the students are women, with the number of educated women higher than educated men, the unemployment rate among women is reported 3 times higher than men. In Iran, women are deprived from having access to important social and political positions. The small number of women at the parliament makes it impossible to ratify and enact fundamental changes in the laws.

The imposed discrimination against women can also be seen in the law. Such as the law of Islamic punishment that was legislated in the year 1991 considers the value of a woman's life to be half of a man's. In many instances, women do not have the right to testify and their words do not hold any value in a court of law. In instances when women are allowed to testify in court, the testimony of two women is considered equal to the testimony of one man. Polygamy is recognized to be legitimate in the law. A man without any legitimate excuse can divorce his wife, whereas divorce by women is very difficult and in some instances impossible. Women of Iran suffer because of discriminatory laws and regulations against them.

The essential question is: What is the source of women's situation in Islamic countries? Islam is a religion that accepts equality between men and women. But leads to the unequal situation of women in these societies and the patriarchal culture that is far more extreme in these societies compared to the rest of the world. Patriarchal culture not only oppresses women and considers them as second-class citizens, but also oppresses men and does not do them any favor. It does not reflect democracy, it does not accept equality among people, and it is a tribal culture.

Considering legal rights tells us that in any country where women do not have equal rights and live in oppression, the whole society suffers. In other words, democracy has a direct relationship with the situation of women; it is the first step towards improving women's rights. Democracy means administration of the affairs by the people, i.e. governance of people by the people. But Democracy also has shortcomings and pitfalls that must be avoided. Let us not forget that Hitler came to office through major vote. Lenin took over the government through the vote of the people. Many of the dictators in the world were, in the beginning, elected by the majority vote of the people. Therefore, the vote of the majority is not the only factor in expressing the legitimacy of a government.

Democracy must be implemented within the framework of Human Rights. In other words, the opinion of the majority is of course valuable, but it does not mean the majority can rule as it desires; its rule must be confined by the regulations set forth in respect with Human Rights. It is in this manner that a society can move towards tranquility and peace. At this point I take the opportunity to remind us that human rights must not be misused or abused. Under the pretext of human rights, no nation can attack another nation and infringe upon it. Human Rights cannot be poured upon the heads of a nation with cluster bombs. Democracy cannot be exported with battle guns. Democracy and Human Rights do not materialize except through the will of the people. If a country claims philanthropic reasons in support of democracy, it does not have the right to, in defense of democracy, launch military attack against another country. On the contrary, countries that violate Human Rights must be forced to respect Human Rights through the venues provided by the United Nations; and this is how defending democracy finds legitimacy.

I feel sorrow for the death of your children in Iraq and sympathize with the families who have lost their children in this war. But unfortunately, the behavior of the soldiers towards the prisoners in Iraq is shameful. For how much longer must this killing continue? Isn't it time that the administration of Iraq should, under the supervision of the United Nations, be turned over to the people of Iraq themselves? I am hoping for more authority to the United Nations, and hoping that your children would safely return home from Iraq. On this walk, American mothers can play an essential role. It is men who have started this war. Now you women demand that it is ended.


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