25 Human Rights NGOs Announce 2023 International Women’s Rights Award Winner

GENEVA, May 2, 2023 —  A coalition of 25 human rights groups announced today that its prestigious women’s rights award will go this year to Shima Babaei, an exiled Iranian women’s rights activist and former political prisoner, in tribute to the courageous women and girl protesters of Iran.

Ms. Babaei will receive the 2023 International Women’s Rights Award at the 15th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy at a ceremony next to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. She will address diplomats, UN officials, parliamentarians, human rights activists and journalists from around the world.

The award ceremony will be followed by a high-level panel on the situation of human rights in Iran, comprised of lawmakers from Belgium, Canada, France and Sweden, weeks ahead of the UNHRC’s first debate with its new commission of inquiry into the Iran protests.

Babaei was chosen for her “extraordinary leadership, moral clarity and courage, as an outstanding representative of the movement led by women and girls in Iran for basic freedom and human dignity,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of United Nations Watch, a co-organizer of the conference together with Human Rights Foundation, Cultura Democratica, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, and more than 20 other human rights groups.

“In far too many places, the rights of women and girls are still under attack. We see it in Iran, where the regime is brutally repressing its people, especially women and girls. Despite the grave risks, Shima Babaei put her life and liberty on the line for the cause of women’s rights, making her an inspiring example for women and girls around the world,” said Neuer.

“Today, with this award, we recognize an extraordinary woman, and the fearlessness, fortitude, and solidarity of a whole movement. In 2023, the women and girls of Iran are the embodiment of moral courage.”

“This Award Means A Lot To Me, We Are Fighting Gender Apartheid”

“Receiving this award means a lot to me,” Babaei said today, “because as an Iranian woman, we have been living under 44 years of gender apartheid by the Islamic regime. We are seeking our basic human rights, fighting against the world’s most anti-women and anti-freedom regime.”

“I will be dedicating the Geneva Summit Women’s Rights Award to those brave Iranians who have joined together to defend freedom, and who won’t stop struggling to achieve their goals, which are admired worldwide.”

“My hope is that this international award will help reach a global audience and promote the Iranian movement whose banner is women, life, freedom.”

Arrested, Imprisoned, Interrogated for Removing Hijab

As a student of architecture in her early 20s, Shima Babaei took to the streets in 2017 and 2018 for the cause of women’s rights, publicly removing her hijab as a sign of protest. She also rallied in support of political prisoners.

As a result, she was repeatedly summoned, arrested and jailed by Iran’s morality 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, Babaei was subjected to 21 days of detention in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, during which she was interrogated 14 times. She was denied access to legal representation.

According to CNN, Babaei’s name became synonymous with the “Girls of Revolution Street” anti-hijab demonstrations that took place across Iran starting in 2017.

Babaei was the subject of a major ITV documentary film in 2018, “Iran Unveiled: Taking On The Ayatollahs.”

Shima and her husband Dariush Zand, a fellow activist, were charged with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” “publishing falsehoods on social media” and “contact with foreign media.”

Facing six years of imminent imprisonment, the couple fled Iran in late 2018.


Continuing the Fight Abroad

Now based in Belgium, Babaei continues the fight, beyond her country’s borders, against gender discrimination and the mandatory hijab.

When the death in custody of Mahsa Amini sparked mass protests in September 2022, Babaei became a leading voice in the Iranian diaspora.

“At the very same building in the morality police headquarters, they treated me as a criminal, put me in handcuffs and disgraced me,” she told CNN.

Babaei was one of four activists invited to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace, in a landmark meeting for the Iranian opposition with a European leader.

Fighting to Free Her Father, Dissident Ebrahim Babaei

Shima Babaei is also devoted to fighting for the release of her father, Ebrahim Babaei, a former engineering professor and dissident who was forcibly disappeared and imprisoned in December 2021 while attempting to flee Iran.

For years, Ebrahim Babaei was repeatedly arrested and brutally punished for peacefully protesting the IRGC, and for supporting his daughter’s activism.

The United Nations reported that he faces “a prison and flogging sentence in two different cases stemming from his peaceful activism, including support of his daughter’s campaigning against compulsory veiling laws. He has several underlying health conditions for which he needs medical treatment and medication, including a heart condition.” He was sentenced to 74 lashes in September 2018 for supporting his daughter.

Amnesty International recently urged Iranian authorities to immediately release Mr. Babaei, “a political activist who remains forcibly disappeared 15 months after attempting to flee Iran,” or to at least disclose his fate and whereabouts.

Previous Laureates

Previous laureates of the International Women’s Rights Award include Congolese activist Julienne Lusenge, who combats rape as a weapon of war, Pakistani campaigner Gulalai Ismail, who trains women in human rights leadership, and Zarifa Ghafari, the youngest female Afghan mayor and a survivor of three Taliban assassination attempts.

About the 2023 Geneva Summit for Human Rights

Babaei will join other courageous champions of human rights from around the world at this year’s 15th annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights, including dissidents, activists, victims, and relatives of political prisoners from North Korea, Afghanistan, Cuba, Russia, Venezuela, Turkey, China, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong and Nicaragua, who will testify on abuses in their countries.

The event draws a standing-room only audience of more than 800 participants, along with international coverage in major media including CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, Le Monde and TIME magazine.

The global gathering is acclaimed as a one-stop opportunity to hear from and meet front-line human rights advocates, many of whom have personally suffered imprisonment and torture. “It’s a focal point for dissidents worldwide,” said Neuer.

The annual conference will be held ahead of the annual June session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Videos of past speaker testimonies are available at the Geneva Summit’s YouTube channel.

For the full list of Geneva Summit speakers, addressing numerous urgent human rights situations around the globe, please see the media kit.

Admission to this year’s Geneva Summit is free and open to the public, but registration is mandatory. Register here.

The conference will also be available via live webcast at www.genevasummit.org.


Speakers are available for virtual interviews prior to the event, and in person on the day of the event. For media inquiries or interview requests, please email media[]genevasummit.org to speak with Pat Rose.

Please use the hashtag #GenevaSummit2023 on social media for news and updates on this year’s awards and speakers.


Geneva Summit 2023 Speakers include:

Evgenia Kara Murza, Human rights activist, wife of jailed Russian prisoner of conscience and opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza

Yang Jianli, President of Initiatives for China, former political prisoner

Peter Yang, Son of Guo Feixiong, imprisoned Chinese “barefoot lawyer” and civil rights activist

Dr. Gyal Lo, Academic expert on China’s mass use of boarding schools to eradicate Tibetan identity and culture

Frances Hui, First Hong Kong activist granted political asylum in the US, Director of We the Hong Kongers organization

Qelbinur Sidik, Uyghur activist, witness to Chinese reeducation camp atrocities, survivor of forced sterilization

Fadzayi Mahere, Constitutional lawyer and opposition spokesperson arrested repeatedly in Zimbabwe

Nila Ibrahimi, 15-year-old Hazara activist who narrowly escaped the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan

Darya Safai, Belgian MP fighting for rights of Iranian women

Hadrien Ghomi, French MP outspoken for victims of repression in Iran

Alireza Akhondi, Swedish MP campaigning to designate IRGC as terrorist entity

Ali Ehsassi, Chair of Foreign Affairs Committee, Canadian Parliament

Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress

Songmi Han, North Korean escapee and survivor of extreme poverty, oppression, and abandonment

Andrey Kurkov, Renowned Ukrainian novelist, author of “Diary of an Invasion” on Russia’s war

Anastasia Shevchenko, First dissident convicted under Russia’s “undesirable organizations” law, profiled in Oscar-shortlisted film “Anastasia”

Marie-Claire Kakpotia, Survivor and activist fighting to end Female Genital Mutilation

Nevşin Mengü, Turkish journalist dropped from CNN Turk after she criticized President Erdogan

Melissa Mahtani, Journalist, former CNN producer

Abraham Jiménez Enoa, Prominent Cuban journalist forced into exile, grandson of the bodyguard to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara

Hasler Iglesias, Venezuelan youth leader, went into hiding to escape arrest by the Maduro regime

Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of United Nations Watch, on behalf of the 25 NGO co-sponsors of the Geneva Summit

Javier El-Hage, Chief Legal and Policy Officer at Human Rights Foundation

UN Watch