Iran's nuclear ambitions should not prevent world leaders from pressing the Persian nation to respect human rights and open its government to democracy, Nobel Peace Prize winner and exiled Iranian activist Shirin Ebadi said Tuesday.
"I'm very glad that both governments of Iran and the United States have stated that the negotiations that recently took place in Istanbul on the issue of nuclear energy have been successful," Ebadi told the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Chicago.
However, Ebadi said, she objects to any efforts to "shake the hand of friendship with a government that for the past 30 years has been fighting human rights."
The Iranian government "neither likes peace with its own people nor is interested in listening to what the people have to say," Ebadi said through a translator.
"In any negotiations with the government of Iran, democracy and human rights should be the subject of negotiations."
The peace and democracy movement in Iran is very strong despite recent crackdowns, Ebadi said.
Iran's feminism movement is the largest in the Middle East, she added, because of high educational level among Iranian women and because so many Iranian men understand that true reform will come only when women's rights are guaranteed.
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"If women succeed in attaining equal rights in Iran, the male power of religion will be cracked," Ebadi said.
"This is the gate to democracy and an introduction to changing bad laws like stoning and cutting off hands of thieves."
Despite what some clerics say, there is no contradiction between Islam and a respect for human rights, nor is there any reason to adopt so-called 'Islamic feminism', Ebadi said.
"We can be Muslims and -- with a correct interpretation of Islam -- attain equal rights for women."
Iran is not the only nation using religion to justify repressing women, said Suzanne Nossel, director of Amnesty International in the United States.
Women's reproductive rights are currently under attack in the United States as politicians seek to limit access to contraception with the argument that employers who object on moral grounds should not have to provide such health insurance coverage.
"We really need to avoid pitting women's rights against religious freedom and also to prevent the resurgence of an argument that religious practice must override women's rights," Nossel told the summit.
Reproductive freedom has allowed women to control their lives and advance professionally. Rolling those rights back is "an economic threat to this country and something we need to make very clear," Nossel added.