Gender and Sexuality in the Islamic Culture

Second Annual DISC Distinguished Lecture

Shirin Ebadi
Nobel Peace Laureate (2003)
Lawyer and human rights activist


Shirin Ebadi is an Iranian lawyer, former judge, and human rights activist. On October 10, 2003, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her significant and pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights – especially women’s, children’s, and refugee rights.



For our second annual DISC Distinguished Lecture, Shirin Ebadi argued that despite the cultural, social, political, and governmental differences in Islamic countries, they all have one thing in common: patriarchal culture. This male-dominated culture is far stronger in Islamic societies than in the Western world and poses serious challenges to the perception of gender and its related laws and regulations.

She shared her view that in this culture women are considered to be second-class citizens. They are humiliated on the one hand, but seen as a symbol of family honor on the other. Issues such as honor killings and FGM should be analyzed considering that they happen due to the importance of the family, which is dependent on women.

With regards to sexual orientation, she also discussed how the patriarchal culture rejects homosexuality. In a same sex relationship for men, there is a difference between the passive and active partners. Namely, the passive person would face a harsher reaction from society because he dishonors his masculinity. This is an example of how patriarchal culture justifies itself by any means possible and interprets the holy book in a way that justifies discriminatory laws.

Abstracts reflect the views of our speakers, which may be varied. 

Co-sponsors: Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, Ford School of Public Policy, Global Islamic Studies Center, Law School, Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies