Friday’s Fabulous Female: Shirin Ebadi

I plan to write a series, ‘Friday’s Fabulous Female’, to introduce you to some great, passionate and inspirational women who has made and continue to make a difference in the world. Some of the posts will be re-posts from the old blog, but these women are all so fabulous they deserve all the attention they can get.

So, this week I’d like to talk about Shirin EbadiShirin Ebadi was the first female judge in Iran, and the first Iranian and the first female Muslim to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to fight for human rights in Iran, especially for the rights of women, children and refugees.

Shirin Ebadi at the WSIS Press Confrence (Tuni...

Shirin Ebadi at the WSIS Press Confrence (Tunis, 2005) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Born in Hamadam, Iran, in 1947, she moved with her family to the capital, Tehran, in 1948 at the age of one. She studied law at university, and sat her exams to become a judge in 1969. In 1975 she became the first female judge in a legislative court in Iran. However, come 1979 and the Iranian revolution, she and all other female judges were banned from presiding as judges, and demoted to clerks. Unwilling to accept the demotion, she eventually filed for early retirement which was granted.

Despite having studied law already, the system made it hard for her to become a lawyer, although she finally succeeded in attaining the permission to practice law in 1993. As a lawyer she is known for taking up cases that no one else will, especially cases of child abuse.

In her memoir ‘Iran Awakening: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Her Life and Country‘ she explains her position on women’s rights and the role of Islam: In the last 23 years, from the day I was stripped of my judgeship to the years of doing battle in the revolutionary courts of Tehran, I had repeated one refrain: an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy is an authentic expression of faith. It is not religion that binds women, but the selective dictates of those who wish them cloistered. That belief, along with the conviction that change in Iran must come peacefully and from within, has underpinned my work.”  Although I haven’t read the book yet, my friend Susanne has and it is on my list of books to read and I look forward to it.

She’s also made headlines by stating that the West should stay out of Iran, and that it is the Iranian people themselves who have to fight for their human rights. Shirin Ebadi was very critical of the pro-Western Shah, and originally supported the Iranian revolution (as did many other feminists and intellectuals in Iran).

In 2003 Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to protect the human rights of women, children and refugees in Iran. It was a choice that was criticized and deemed to be “calculated” by some, saying that she didn’t really deserve the prize and didn’t live up to the original goals set up by Alfred Nobel.

Since she received the Nobel Prize, she has travelled across the world to deliver speeches, but since June 2009 she’s had to seek refuge in London, England, due to Iran increasing persecution of those who speak up against the regime. The authorities in Iran allegedly confiscated her Nobel Peace Prize, along with her Légion d’honneur and froze her bank accounts.



Did you know who Shirin Ebadi is? What do you think of her? Do you have any other suggestions for women to feature in Friday’s Fabulous Female?


  1. I think it’s a great idea! I love learning about courageous and independent women. Women who are not afraid to challenge the status quo. Here are few who I greatly admire:

    – Aung San Suu Kyi (needs no introduction)
    – Arundhati Roy (no other person has influenced my political beliefs as Roy has done. Many people don’t like her in India because she exposes what a sham Indian democracy is. She writes so eloquently, so passionately that it’s impossible not to agree with her. She is just amazing. Would recommend reading her novel “The God Of Small Things”)
    – Shehrbano Taseer ( Received a Human Rights award for promoting religious tolerance in Pakistan. Her father Salman Taseer was assassinated by a Muslim fundamentalist for speaking out for a Christian woman falsely accused of blasphemy. Link: )
    -Asma Jahangir (Link –
    – Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Might be controversial. I admire her courage, even though there is no doubt that she is an opportunist and present a very biased view of Islam)


    • Excellent suggestions! I actually wrote about Aung San Suu Kyi on the old blog a few months ago, after I saw the movie ‘The Lady’ based on her life. But she definitely needs to be featured again.

      I think ‘The God of Small Things’ by Arundhati Roy is already on my list of books to read and she seems a fascinating woman.

      I hadn’t heard of Shehrbano Taseer & Asma Jahangir, but I’ll definitely have to check them out!

      I think Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be rather controversial, but I agree with you that she seems rather opportunistic, I should probably read one or two of her books though.

      Thank you so much for your comment.


  2. I think I have read an article about her once, because her name seemed familiar to me, but my memory is so bad that I already forgot most of the things I’d read about her. Thank you for this post to remind me! I very much like that you go on with your fabulous females series on here. 🙂


    • I did write about her about a year ago on the old blog, and I think her name comes up every now and again with the events in Iran. Some people are just so amazing it’s great to be reminded about them every now and again!


  3. I’ve translated at book by american journalist Roxana Saberi, who were sent to prison in Iran on trumped up charges of espionage. Very interesting. The author herself is a bit of a spoiled brat, but she recognizes the true heroism of all the women she meets in prison. She mentions Ebadi – I think her company of lawyers finally got Saberi freed.


    • Oh wow, that does sound really interesting! It sounds very likely that Ebadi and her company of lawyers were paramount to getting Saberi freed, it sounds like just the thing she’d be working on.
      Thank you for stopping by and commenting!


  4. Thanks for reminding me of this lady! She’s pretty great! 🙂


  5. Usama Mohamed

    Great post Rebekka.
    The first time I heard about Shirin was when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 and I could have met her in 2009 when she was in Seattle but I found out about her event when it was already over.

    Have you heard of Mozhdah Jamalzadah (aka Afghanistan’s Oprah!) ?
    She was a model, singer then she returned to Afghanistan to host a television show that tackles sensitive issues such as domestic violence, divorce and disrespect for women Below are two interviews with her

    I tried to search her name on twitter but I saw only few tweets by her. Not sure if she is still in Afghanistan (hopefully she is still safe as she mentioned getting death threats)

    Usama Mohamed


    • Thank you Usama! No I hadn’t heard of her, but she sounds really interesting – I’ll definitely look into her.



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