BRONX, N.Y. (WOMENSENEWS)--Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, urged the United States during a major speech here yesterday to encourage democracy, and thus women's rights, by supporting "democracy seeking people and institutions" and not through the use of "cluster bombs."
Addressing 500 students, faculty and admirers at a Lehman College symposium yesterday, Ebadispoke passionately to a crowd that frequentlyburst into applause and leapt to its feet, calling for equal rights for women as a fundamental precursor to world peace.
The college is part of the publically supported City University of New York.
"With every girl's school that is established, we are taking steps to a loftier seat in the history of civilization," Ebadi, a Women's eNews Leader for the 21st Century, said. "It is only through awareness and knowledge that we can start changing fundamentalist traditions and advancing society."
Preaching for Religious Tolerance, Education for Women
Ebadi, less than 5 feet tall, is however a powerful speaker and now also a towering international figure. A Shiite Muslim, Ebadi pointed out that all three of the ancient faiths of the Middle East, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, study many of the same religious leaders, like Jesus and Moses, because these figures preached peace and universal truths.
"Christ was a messenger of God," she said, and she described Moses as being "chosen by God and a messenger of peace and justice."
Focusing on the violence related to Middle East issues, she said, "Let us separate the wrongs of individuals from the religious civilizations to which they belong. If an individual or group perpetrates an act of terror, let us not count that against Islam." She added, "Let us remember that religions and civilizations do not clash, they actually have many commonalities. Let us not promote violence and war."
The supposedly religious practices that oppress women, Ebadi said, are actually part of a patriarchal tribal traditions in culture that must be ended through education, and literacy programs must be focused on women.
Ebadi cited the example of Saudi Arabia, where women were only recently allowed to apply for identification cards independently of men, and yet are not allowed to drive cars.
"The patriarchal culture not only oppresses women and regards them as second class citizens, but also acts against men because it does not ensure democracy."
Peace Equals Gender Equality
She pointed out that in her native Iran, where she has worked as an advocate of children, women and political prisoners, the religious courts deem a woman's life only half as important as a man's, thus killing a woman is half the crime of killing a man.
"When legal rights are withheld from women, democracy falls behind," Ebadi told the audience, which responded with several standing ovations. "Democracy is tantamount to improving the status of women."
Ebadi also called on political parties around the globe to institute policies of gender equity in government.
"In the United States and almost all of Europe there are more male legislators in power than women," Ebadi said. "The European parliaments, at the forefront of Western civilization, are very revealing in telling us what the status of women is around the world. Key economic posts are almost exclusively in the hands of men worldwide. We must change this."
The day-long symposium, sponsored by the college and the International Health Awareness Network, was titled "The Role of Women in World Peace and the Role of Men and Boys in Gender Equity" and featured ambassadors from the United Nations, including U.N. Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Anwarul Karim Chowdhury.
Citing war-torn places like the Congo, Kosovo and Sierra Leone, the ambassador said women's rights are fundamental to world peace.
"Sustainable peace is inseparable from gender equality," Chowdhury said. "When women are marginalized, there is little chance for democracy."
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, a Women's eNews intern, has written for Newsday, The Orange County Register and other publications.
For more information:
"Seven Who Change Their Worlds--Shirin Ebadi,
2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner":