Iranian human-rights activist Shirin Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. A judge who was dismissed from the bench after the 1979 Islamic revolution, she is now a lawyer who works to promote press freedom, spotlight gender inequity and child abuse, and defend dissidents against Iran's theocratic regime. Ebadi, 58, whose memoir Iran Awakening is out this week, spoke with TIME's Jeff Chu about the Nobel's impact, Iran's nuclear ambitions and her daily relaxation ritual.
Has the fame that came with the Nobel helped you in Iran? No, it has not helped at all. I published my memoirs outside Iran because I knew I would not get permission inside Iran. Also, from the time I won the Nobel, the authorities have tried three times to build a case against me. At the moment I have an open case against me. I have been accused of having taken money from the U.S. to give to Akbar Ganji, a journalist who is in jail, so he would go on a hunger strike and make Iran lose face.
You write about seeing your name on a death squad's hit list. Do you feel in danger? I still receive threatening letters and e-mails. A letter I recently received accused me of working against Islam and against Iran. Instead of a signature, [the writer] taped a dead roach to the bottom of the letter.
You discuss the strength of your Muslim faith in your book. Do you have a favorite Koranic verse? There is a verse that says God swears by time. Anything you gain in life, you pay for with your time. Time is the most important thing that has been given to man. This inspires me because it reminds me how short our time here is.
Where in the Muslim world can one see your model of how women should be treated? Let me answer this in another way: nowhere in the world is there a place where women are treated as they should be. Even in America you have not had a female President, and the number of women in the Cabinet is much lower than the number of men. Women are suppressed both in Islamic countries and in the West. But the reason they are more suppressed in Islamic countries is not because of religion but because of the patriarchal culture in Eastern countries.
You write about your responsibility for all domestic aspects of your household. Unfortunately, in the East women have to accept all the responsibility at home. Many husbands still complain when their wives work outside the house. My husband has the virtue of not complaining about my job. I divide my time so I can attend to both my profession and my work at home. Also remember that I am an Iranian woman. I have learned how to be patient.
You have described yourself as stubborn. Does your husband find it exasperating to argue with you? My husband and I rarely argue. I want to tell you something interesting: I believe so strongly in equality that I have even filled my family life with it. My husband and I have two daughters. The elder looks like her mother but has chosen her father's profession--she is an engineer. My younger daughter looks like her father, but her character is like mine. For this reason she is becoming a lawyer. So you can see we have divided our world equally. There is nothing to fight about.