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Friday, July 17, 2009
Posted by Commonwealth at 3:55 PM
"Iran is a country of contradictions, but you need to be close to the land and live there to understand the contradictions," Shirin Ebadi told The Commonwealth Club of California on May 10, 2006. An Iranian human rights lawyer and the winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, Ebadi explained that her country has many laws that discriminate against women, yet "over 65 percent of students in universities in Iran are female." She added a note of hope by saying that "laws can change for the better."
In light of the ongoing demonstrations and anti-government protests in Iran that have led to a sharp government crackdown and a persistent split even among the country's religious establishment, Ebadi wouldn't likely be surprised by the heavy presence of women among the protesters. The government has paid attention, most recently arresting a prominent women's rights activist as she headed to the official Friday prayers today.
Ebadi's words still reflect the reality in Iran, though it remains to be seen how that reality will be changed by the events of the past few weeks. "In Iran, democracy is incomplete," she said. "The first step toward democracy is to allow people to elect whoever they want. We lack that freedom."
To get there, she called for greater political pressure -- but not economic or military pressure -- on Iran. In a visit to broadcaster Deutsche Welle's headquarters in Bonn, Germany, she said, "Diplomatic ties must not be severed; instead, the embassies could be downgraded to consulates. This would not harm the Iranian people, but it would illustrate the government's isolation."
To learn more about her thoughts on Iran and its relationship with the rest of the world, listen to the audio of Shirin Ebadi's 2006 Club speech, and audience Q&A, here.