TEHRAN – Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi said she had asked the United Nations to investigate the status of women in Iran and accused Iranian authorities of detaining activists demanding more women’s rights.
Ebadi, speaking at a press conference on Monday marking the first anniversary of a campaign to gather 1 million signatures in favour of women’s rights in the Islamic state, said she had contacted top U.N. human rights official Louise Arbour.
She said about 50 activists had been detained over the last 14 months for involvement in women’s rights protests and some of them faced charges of acting against national security. She did not say how many – if any – were still being held.
Western diplomats and rights groups say Iran is taking a tougher line against dissent in general, possibly in response to increased international pressure over its disputed nuclear activities, which the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.
The Islamic Republic rejects allegations it discriminates against women, saying it follows sharia law.
Tehran usually reacts dismissively toward criticism from any foreign organisations, including the United Nations.
‘I have written a letter to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and complained for the first time, and said this is the situation of women rights in Iran and these are our demands,’ Ebadi said.
‘Please send a special rapporteur to Iran to report on women, to investigate the conditions for women,’ she said, describing her message to Arbour.
Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work on women’s and children’s rights.
Campaigners say Iranian women face difficulties in getting a divorce. They also criticise inheritance laws they say are unjust and the fact that a woman’s court testimony is worth half that of a man’s.
Activists say scores of people were detained at protests for greater women rights in Tehran in June 2006 and in March this year, which authorities had declared illegal.
In April, an Iranian news agency said four campaigners were detained while collecting signatures for the petition demanding equal legal rights with men.
‘Unfortunately, about 50 people involved in gatherings demanding equality … had cases (against them) and were in prison for a while and some of them are waiting for their verdicts now,’ Ebadi said.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch earlier this year said six women were convicted after taking part in last year’s protest.
Women’s rights campaigners vowed to press on with the signature campaign, but did not say how many they had collected since it was launched in August last year.
Although women are legally entitled to hold most jobs in Iran, it remains a male-dominated society. Women cannot run for president or become judges but in recent years they have started to work in police and fire departments.
‘Many women believe they are equal with men and they want to prove it,’ said one campaigner. ‘I believe men agree with us.’
Fredrik Dahl writes a great article about Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and her recent call for the UN to investigate the status of women in Iran. I recently read Ebadi’s autobiography called Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope and was moved by Ebadi’s story and her struggle for women’s rights in Iran. A former judge, she was pushed out of the courts when the Iran’s religious revolution took place.
Ebadi is a fabulous woman and is such a remarkable campaigner for women’s rights! I recommend her book to anyone interested in better understanding Iran or women’s rights there.