Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi recently visited Bangladesh with two other laureates -- Mairead Maguire and Tawokkol Karman -- to see the plight of the Rohingyas first-hand.
Bangla Tribune got in touch with her with the help of the NGO Naripokkho for an interview, where she spoke about her own life as well as the condition of women in Iran and around the world.
How much freedom are the women of Iran able to enjoy?
None. They are not even allowed to choose what clothes they want to wear. If I went to Iran right now wearing this (a blazer), I would be immediately arrested and prosecuted. What freedoms can the women of such a country enjoy? They cannot even go to the stadium to watch sports, or to concerts to see bands. The biggest example of the gross unfairness is the fact that they are not even allowed to file for divorce. The very word “freedom” is fobidden for women in such a patriarchal regime as a part of patriarchy’s creed to the point where this is embedded into the minds of women.
How did you manage to speak out under such adverse conditions?
When I started speaking out, they tried their best to stop me. I was fired from work, but I did not stop. I began with people who were jailed for their politics or idealism. During this time, I began receiving local and international awards for my work. The more recognition I got, the more agitated the government became. If I had stopped, my journey would have ended then and there. Subsequently, my personal office was shut down and my colleagues jailed while I was out of the country. Those who managed to escape this move by the government went underground and warned me not to go back, saying that I would be able to fight for the rights of others if I stayed away. Next, the government imprisoned my husband and my sister. They keep offering me deals saying that everything would go back to normal if I stopped speaking out – but I staunchly refuse every time.
What would you like to say to the world right now as a human rights activist?
Humanity is for everyone – men and women alike. It is especially important to ensure human rights for marginalized people and minorities. A truly free country is where different schools of thought are allowed to express themselves, but the norm is such that those who are in power only want to allow their own people to speak out. It is important for those not in power to be heard and considered by those who are.
For the last few years, several countries have been in debate about the topic of the hijab or niqab. What are your views on this?
A lot of people associate security and safety with this, but I do not think this is the case. Burqas and niqabs are different in different parts of the world, while Europe wants it to be half-open. Some say that this is up to the woman wearing the garb. In my opinion problems only arise when you force rules regarding this onto women.
[caption id="attachment_251299" align="aligncenter" width="600"]
Shirin Ebadi and Udisa Islam Bangla Tribune
Human rights activists around the world are against the death penalty. What are your thoughts on this?
I myself am also against it, though unfortunately my own country still has this law in place. It remains one of my many struggles.
Do you miss Iran?
Of course! It is my motherland. I have not been there since 2009 – not because I am afraid to go to jail, but because people have asked me to stay safe for the sake of speaking out on behalf of those who are not allowed a voice. In case you do not know this, I have been in jail before and I know the suffering one has to endure, but if I go to jail now, I will not be able to speak out. I want my words to come to the aid of the people of Iran. I believe this is my calling.
Would you like to say something about Bangladesh?
As far as I have seen, Bangladesh has people with different mentalities. In 1979, Iran was overcome by a mockery of democracy when it was overrun by the Islamic Revolution which was masquerading as everything it stands against. My work deals with the problems that subsequently arose in the name of Islamization. In Iran, one can be punished for throwing rocks by getting their hand severed off. Bangladesh is a Muslim country too, but it has no such absurd laws. In Iran, it is said that the value of a woman’s life is half of that of a man’s, and thus the testimonies of two women are equal to that of a man’s! Thankfully, Bangladesh is much better off and there are still plenty of opportunities to speak out. This is simply not possible in Iran.
This article was first published on Banglatribune.com