Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian lawyer, writer, and teacher, who received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2003 for her efforts to promote democracy and human rights, especially those of women and children in Iran. She was the first Iranian and also the first Muslim mother to receive the award.
Ebadi was born in the city of Hamadan in northwestern Iran on 21 June, 1947. Her father was the head of Hamedan’s Registry Office, one of the country’s first lecturers in commercial law who has published a number of books. Her family relocated to Tehran, the capital of Iran, when she was one year old. In 1965, Ebadi gained a place at the Faculty of Law in Tehran University (NobelPrize.org).
Ebadi earned her law degree in only three and a half years, graduating in 1969. That same year she took an apprenticeship at the Department of Justice and became one of the first women judges in Iran. While serving as a judge, she also earned a doctorate in private law from the University of Tehrān (1971). From 1975 to 1979 she was head of the city court of Tehrān.
After the 1978–79 revolution and the establishment of an Islamic republic, women were deemed unsuitable to serve as judges because the new leaders believed that Islam forbids it. Ebadi was subsequently forced to become a clerk of the court. After she and other female judges protested this action, they were given higher roles within the Department of Justice but were still not allowed to serve as judges. Ebadi resigned in protest. She then chose to practice law but was initially denied a lawyer’s license. In 1992, after years of struggle, she finally obtained a license to practice law and began to do so. She also taught at the University of Tehrān and became an advocate for civil rights. In court Ebadi defended women and dissidents and represented many people who, like her, had run afoul of the Iranian government. She also distributed evidence implicating government officials in the 1999 murders of students at the University of Tehrān, for which she was jailed for three weeks in 2000. Found guilty of ‘disturbing public opinion,’ she was given a prison term, barred from practising law for five years, and fined, although her sentence was later suspended.
Ebadi helped found the Defenders of Human Rights Center, but it was closed by the government in 2008. Later that year her law offices were raided, and in 2009 Ebadi went into exile in the United Kingdom. However, she continued to agitate for reforms in Iran. Ebadi wrote a number of books on the subject of human rights, including The Rights of the Child: A Study of Legal Aspects of Children’s Rights in Iran (1994), History and Documentation of Human Rights in Iran (2000), and The Rights of Women (2002). She was also the founder and head of the Association for Support of Children’s Rights in Iran. Ebadi reflected on her own experiences in Iran Awakening: From Prison to Peace Prize, One Woman’s Struggle at the Crossroads (2006; with Azadeh Moaveni; also published as Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope) and Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran (2016) (Britannica).