Iranian actor and activist Nazanin Boniadi has won the Sydney Peace Prize. Here’s what you should know about her

by Women’s Agenda
Friday 4 August 2023

Sydney Peace Prize laureate Nazanin Boniadi is using her high-profile platform as an actor and activist to fight for the human rights of women and girls in Iran.

Born in Tehran in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, Boniadi and her parents immigrated to London shortly after in 1980, where she was raised. Boniadi has joked in interviews that her first protest was in the womb as her mother protested against raising a child in the newly formed Islamic republic.

Later on, Boniadi attended university in California in the United States, and after graduating with honours in biology, went into acting despite previous plans of venturing into medical school.

The arts were calling her, and she landed her first role as a nurse on a TV show called General Hospital. Following that, some of her more well-known projects include How I Met Your Mother, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Ben-Hur and a starring role opposite Armie Hammer and Dev Patel in Hotel Mumbai.

She is currently working to aid the ongoing women’s rights movement in Iran, following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, the woman allegedly killed by Iran’s morality police for not wearing a hijab.

Most recently, she has been awarded the 2023 Sydney Peace Prize for her incredible advocacy efforts.

Among a strong field of candidates, the Sydney Peace Prize jury has said they selected Boniadi “for drawing attention to human rights violations, for lending a powerful voice to support Iranian women and girls and their #WomanLifeFreedom movement, and for using a high-profile platform to promote freedom and justice in Iran”.

Bringing Iranian human rights into sharp focus on the world stage, Boniadi has put the case before the UN Security Council, the US Senate Human Rights Caucus, the British Parliament and forums across the globe.

Speaking of what she describes as an “extraordinary honour” to receive the Sydney Peace Prize, Boniadi said she’ll use the opportunity to further aid Iranian women and girls.

“As my compatriots in Iran are subjected to unspeakable assaults on their minds, bodies and souls and risk their lives to speak out against the injustices they experience daily, I can only dedicate this recognition to them and pledge to use this opportunity to further amplify their voices, centre them on the world stage, and support their dreams of a free, prosperous and secular democratic Iran,” she said.

Boniadi is also the recipient of the 2020 Freedom House Raising Awareness Award, the 2022 Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the 2023 Society of American Law Teachers M. Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award.

In 2020, she was selected for membership at the Council on Foreign Relations and appointed an ambassador for Amnesty International UK.

Boniadi has been included on her fair share of influential lists as well, including People Magazine’s ‘25 Women Changing the World’ in 2018, Marie Claire UK’s ‘11 Future Shapers’ in 2022 and the 2022 Financial Times readers Women of the Year.

Since 2008, she has partnered with Amnesty International to campaign for human rights around the world, with her focus being on Iranian youth, women and prisoners of conscience.

As an Amnesty spokesperson Boniadi has written opinion pieces and spoken to various global media outlets.

In a recent conversation with Forbes, she spoke on the Islamic Republic’s occupying force in Iran, saying “we need to make sure that we have policy in place that empowers civil society in Iran and disempowers the Islamic Republic.”

“My intention and my hope is that lawmakers around the world understand that this is a global threat. That the Islamic Republic – if they’re willing to do this to their own women and children, their own people – they pose such a threat to global peace.”