Tehran, Iran Nine years ago, sociologist Saeed Madeni was jailed for three months for writing an article about Shirin Ebadi's campaign for women's rights.
"Feminism was considered as bad as atheism at that time," Madeni said Saturday, a day after Ebadi became the surprise winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Some limits on Iranian women have been rolled back since Madeni's arrest. But Ebadi's new international stature is considered a powerful tool to strike at more barriers -- including laws that stripped Ebadi, Iran's first women judge, of her right to preside in court.
"This is an important moment for Iranian women," said Madeni, a researcher at a state-funded institute. "It could be a real turning point. I think Iranian reformers always expected a man to lead them, but it turns out differently."
The Norwegian Nobel Committee's selection of the relatively unknown lawyer-activist over others, including Pope John Paul II, was widely interpreted as a message to the Islamic world to expand women's roles.
"I am so happy I can't control myself," said Parvin Ardalan, an activist who has often joined Ebadi in challenges of Iran's ruling clerics. "This prize will push the Iranian women's movement to a brighter future."
President Bush said Saturday that Ebadi's Nobel win "recognizes her lifetime of championing human rights and democracy," adding that he backed "the Iranian people's aspirations for freedom, and their desire for democracy."
Ebadi said in Saturday's editions of the French daily newspaper Le Monde that her prize would encourage human rights campaigners in Iran.