While women’s rights have seen many institutional attacks throughout the year, awareness and awakening among Muslim women have also been on the rise, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi said at the 17th International Conference on the European Union, Turkey, the Middle East and the Kurds hosted in the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday.
The renowned human rights lawyer attended remotely via video message and said 8 March International Women’s Day was a “reminder of the discrimination against women around the world”.
Ebadi praised the bravery of Afghan women, who are “now raising their voices to fight the Taliban”, and spoke highly of the Iranian protests that began with the death of a young Kurdish Iranian woman in morality police custody six months ago.
The first thing Iran’s new Islamic regime did after the 1979 revolution was to pass compulsory hijab laws, Ebadi said.
“Dominating women’s bodies was the first and fastest decision they made. Few months later, they passed a law allowing men to marry four wives and divorce them without a valid excuse.”
Women in the East face severe discrimination, often enforced by law and religion, Ebadi said, while adding that women in Western countries were also facing struggles due to dual obligations to home, work and society, but often had the advantage of laws put in place to reduce discrimination.
The root of the problem in the patriarchal culture is that it does not recognise human equality, Ebadi said. She concluded with an expression of hope that all could witness a world “where everyone is equal, and where there is no more discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, social class, language, religion, culture, or ethnicity”.
“Equality is one of the first principle of democracy,” Ebadi said. “Women are the pioneers of democracy simply because they fight for equality.”