Trained as an attorney in Iran, Dr. Shirin Ebadi set up a private practice in 1992 handling contentious cases. She was the defense lawyer for many controversial political and human rights cases in Iran, including Parvaneh and Dariush Foroohar (well-known political activists killed by security forces) and Zahra Bani Yaghoob (a young doctor killed in detention). These activities led to her incarceration on charges of spreading and publishing lies against the Islamic Republic. She spent 25 days in solitary confinement. But the international community recognized her work and awarded Dr. Ebadi the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. Dr. Ebadi used some of the prize money to set up an office for the Center for Defenders of Human Rights and support the families of political prisoners. Although a role model to many, Dr Ebadi says she is “opposed to following a role model. I often tell my daughters not to follow me as a role model. I have not followed any role models. I tell young women, in particular, that you need to be yourself and follow your own dreams. I tell them to make efforts to reach their goals and not fear the possibility of failure.”
Maria Bashir is the first female Prosecutor General in Afghanistan. In her groundbreaking role, she has taken on the mission of educating and empowering the women in her community of Herat of their Islamic and civic rights. The knowledge Bashir is imparting is empowering women to file police reports and claim their rights to safety and equal treatment. The sad irony is that while Bashir protects women and children, her own life is under threat from both the local government and the Taliban. Bashir has sent her children out of the country to keep them safe while she herself moves from safe house to safe house. For her brave work, the United States Department of State presented her The International Women of Courage Award, which is awarded annually to women around the world who have shown leadership, courage, resourcefulness and willingness to sacrifice for others, especially for better promotion of women’s rights. She says, “The message that I give to young girls is that there is no career that they cannot do as long as they are equipped with the knowledge. I also make them aware of their rights, and I tell them that if they work in the government of Afghanistan, they can have a significant role in rule of law, and specifically justice for women. I believe it so important to lead society toward justice!