The Weathered Hands of a Nobel Peace Laureate

I apologize for my delayed posts as of late as I have been trying to meet other deadlines in a busy spring semester; however, ideas for posts and this blogging community are frequently on my mind.

It is my great pleasure to relay to you the sentiments of Dr. Shirin Ebadi. This past Friday night, Belmont University partnered with STARS to host the Mid-South Peace-Jam event. A human rights organization, Peace-Jam teaches youth  about peace, allows them to develop peace proposals for various topics, and then present these to Nobel Peace Laureates at an annual conference. Pretty cool, huh?! This year, Dr. Ebadi was invited to receive the youth peace proposals and to be the keynote speaker.

The night began with a techie-heavy video that defined the sometimes ambiguous term: “human rights.” The short video can be found here and is well worth your time. After video, Dr. Ebadi took the stage. In 2003, Dr. Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, was  awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at a historic ceremony, signifying the first Iranian to have received this distinction.

Fall 2012 Beauty 100

Dr. Ebadi is a small woman with a big voice. She spoke of the disjunct between the Iranian people and their government, stating that many Iranians do not promote the enrichment of uranium in their country, even though their government will not back down from it. She spoke of Iran’s involvement in Syria and about human rights violations occurring within Iran’s borders. Two womens testimonies in court are the equivalent of one man’s; by law, the life of a woman is considered half of that of a man’s. If one is not a Shi’a Muslim, life is very difficult, and often results in religious persecution (even Sunni Muslims experience this in Iran).

She spoke of the harsh economic sanctions imposed on Iran by western countries (ie. the US), sanctions which have affected the citizens in many detrimental ways. She suggested this was not the best or most humane way to force the government to disarm; instead she suggested very specific political sanctions.

When asked when she believes Iran will be a full democracy, she questioned the definition of democracy. Yes, Iranian citizens can vote, but do they all have basic human freedoms, such as a freedom of speech and religion? No. So, in her opinion, a true democracy does not exist in her country. She is hopeful that such structure will come through students and through feminists: stating: “The feminist movement is very strong in Iran, so is the student movement. I am sure that one day democracy of Iran will be brought through the youth.” I am happy to suggest the same is true for America, in that, I believe positive change is coming through students and feminism.

Asking the last question, a female student quietly inquired: “What can we do?” Shirin responded by saying: students must not be indifferent about what goes on in their country and the world. They must be informed activists. They must have larger goals for their life than achieving PhD’s or buying houses, (though these aren’t inherently negative), they must be real human beings.

Wow.

Though she is currently exiled to London, it is clear that Shirin is still fighting for the human rights and dignities of her countrymen/women.

Though this woman can’t be taller than 5’1, is Iranian, and does not speak my native tongue, I suspect she and I are a lot alike. We believe that equality is a prerequisite for peace and that we, as humans, have a social responsibility to each other to work for these human rights. She and I realize that when women are disenfranchised, so are children, and so are men, everyone is. That when Iranians and Syrians suffer human rights violations, we do as much injustice to ourselves as we do to the sufferers of it when we refuse to care or engage.

Her eyes told me she had seen much injustice; her hands showed me that she had fought it with ferocity, not because she was suffering its oppression, but because this was what “being human” meant to her.

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Is equality a prerequisite for peace? Are my standards too high, my thoughts too idealistic?

I Am a Woman

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert at a great many things in life, like say, fixing a malfunctioning toaster, sewing a family quilt… or say, safely landing an airplane, or examining nanoparticles on a Scanning Electron Microscope. I’ll leave all of these things up to the experts… who knows, maybe I’ll muster up the wherewithal to attempt soon. But today, there is one thing I do consider myself an expert on. Women.

I have a pretty decent resume to support this. For starters, I’ve been one for a number of years. That’s got to count for something. I’ve felt the joys of womanhood. I’ve felt the pressures to emulate the front-page models of Vogue. For years, I sported long, glossy- brown hair that fell to the small of my back. Presently, as of last Thursday, half my head is shaved. I’ve taught women for years. I’ve been taught by women for years. I’ve been told (though I don’t agree) that motherhood is the highest calling of a woman. I’ve mentored and been mentored by women. I’ve felt the fears that women experience. I’ve held women’s hands and cried with them. I’ve stood behind women on their wedding days and held their newly born babies. I’ve fought for women who are sold into forced prostitution and trafficking. I’ve hugged women who have stories of bravery. I’ve been silenced because I am a woman. I’ve been honored because I am a woman. I’ve been taken advantage of because I’m a woman. I’ve been ignored because I am a woman. I’ve been through the good and bad of being a woman. I am a woman.

As I was driving my woman self through a neighboring city yesterday, I passed an electronic sign advertising what I thought to be a women’s self defense class. The sign belonged to a staunchly traditional, evangelical church and read: “Safety for Women: Come Thursday– 8:00pm!” As I read the flashing sign…the irony of it hit me like a truck. This church is not actually a safe place for women. Women can’t speak here. Women can’t lead. Women can’t preach. Women can’t even pray or teach in mixed company. Does that strike a nerve? Does something about it feel wrong in your spirit?

Well, it does in mine too.

Here’s what I know. I am a woman who is created, loved, and empowered by God, just like a man is. I follow the teachings of Christ, just like a man. I pray in Christ’s name, just like a man. I take communion–the body and blood of Christ– just like a man. I love in God’s name, just like a man.

I read about the women of scripture and I know they were not silent. I know when Paul proclaimed that women should be silent, the comment was contextual and not universal. I know that there were powerful women apostles and women prophets and that these women played a significant role in the early church. I know that women have much to offer in the ways of leadership and in the ways of making peace.

How long are we going to silence female bodied individuals? How long are we going to make the church an unsafe place for women to exercise their God-given gifts?

If you find yourself adamantly disagreeing with me, would you consider, just for a second, imagining yourself being ignored or silenced not because of what you had to say, but because of who you were biologically… something you had absolutely no control over. What if we’ve gotten this wrong? What if we’ve silenced generations of women who could have led us to the gospel?

Women, for your sisters and your daughters. Speak. Men, for your sisters and your daughters. Let us.

I’m not entirely sure that another generation will pass, letting this continue to happen. There are too many voices to be heard and no longer any ground to silence them. I know this. Because… I am a woman.

What is your story? You have a voice here on this blog and I would love to hear it.