Vice Chair of the U.N Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Genoveva Tisheva presents the International Women’s Rights Award at the 15th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy– see below for her remarks
It is a great honor to stand before you today as we gather to celebrate the courage, moral leadership, and devotion of those who tirelessly work towards the advancement of women’s rights.
This year, at the 15th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights, we honor an exceptional individual whose relentless pursuit of justice has made a profound impact on countless lives: The inspiring Iranian activist and former political prisoner Shima Babaei.
In 2017, while she was a student of architecture in Iran, Shima’s name became synonymous of the “Girls of Revolution Street” demonstrations that took place across Iran.
She risked her life and liberty to protest for women’s rights, openly defying the law that forces all women to wear a headscarf. She also rallied in support of political prisoners. As a result, Shima was repeatedly summoned, arrested, and jailed by Iranian police. She was sentenced to prison for the crimes of “removing the hijab in public” and “publishing indecent material on social media.”
In February 2018, Shima was subjected to 21 days of solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin Prison. She was interrogated 14 times. She was denied access to legal representation. Shima and her husband Dariush Zand, a fellow activist, were charged with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” and “publishing falsehoods on social media.” Facing six years of imminent imprisonment, the couple fled Iran in late 2018.
Now based in Belgium, Shima continues the fight, beyond her country’s borders, against gender discrimination. When the death in custody of Mahsa Amini sparked mass protests in September 2022, Shima became a leading voice of the diaspora. She told CNN: “At the very same building in the morality police headquarters, they treated me as a criminal, put me in handcuffs, and disgraced me.” In November, Shima was one of four Iranian activists invited to a landmark meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Shima is now fighting for the release of her father, Ebrahim Babaei, a human rights activist who has been forcibly disappeared since December 2021, when he tried to flee Iran. For years, he was brutally punished for his peaceful protests, and for supporting his daughter’s activism. Human rights activists are calling for his immediate release, and at least for his whereabouts to be disclosed.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “In the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing, we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, ‘It can’t be done.’”
Despite so many hardships, Shima Babaei is a woman who has chosen hope over fear. She dreams of a world where women are treated equally, and she fights for that dream. Her courage and determination have made her a beacon of hope for women in Iran and around the world.
On behalf of the 25 human rights groups that co-sponsor the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, I am proud to present the 2023 International Women’s Rights Award to Shima Babaei.
Shima, please come forward to receive the award.