So you want to work in human rights?
From famous human rights lawyers like Amal Clooney, to grass-roots activists writing letters to politicians or going to protests, the kind of work it takes to defend and expand human rights is vast and demanding. But it can also be highly rewarding and inspiring.
If you’re passionate about human rights but not sure where or how you could make a real difference, here are five types of human rights roles you’ll see advertised on EthicalJobs.com.au, and some tips for how to make the cut.
1. Human Rights Lawyer
If you’re good at arguing your case (and you have a legal degree), a career as a Human Rights Lawyer could be for you.
Human rights lawyers witness humanity at its worst – and then have the opportunity to try to fix the problems.
Internationally, organisations like the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch need human rights lawyers for the various issues they tackle.
But human right law isn’t just the province of the international institutions and organisations – at a local level, small not-for-profit organisations like Community Legal Centres (CLCs) tackle all sorts of human rights issues such as immigration, refugee rights, domestic violence, labour rights, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights.
How to get there
It starts with a law degree, which means several years of study. Then usually an internship with a community legal centre or human rights organisation will help you get your foot in the door.
It takes a while to get the experience needed to tackle the big cases and you may need to work in another area of law to gain enough experience before you get the opportunity to work directly on human rights cases.
2. Human Rights Researcher
Researchers are the hidden heroes of human rights work, toiling away behind the scenes to reveal and understand the problems, and propose solutions.
If you like to read long, detailed reports and you can write compelling copy, a career as a human rights researcher could be for you.
Research roles in human rights involve responsibilities as diverse as writing discussion papers or public reports, making submissions into parliamentary inquiries, assisting with public advocacy campaigns, interviewing and community engagement, investigative journalism and policy analysis.
How to get there
Consider post-graduate study. A further qualification will almost always help your prospects for getting a research job in human rights. Law, international relations, international development or public policy are common qualifications that could boost your chances of landing a job as a researcher.
3. Social media manager
In the digital age, being social media savvy is an ever-changing, increasingly sought after skill.
Social media experts working on human rights issues must be able to capture the attention of even the most compassion-fatigued individuals. It might be something you associate more with your personal time than with a job, but when done well, social media can be a powerful tool for social change.
How to get there
To be successful in a social media role with a human rights organisation, you’ll need to have a punchy, persuasive writing style, an understanding of data analytics, and an eye for new trends. Graphic design skills wouldn’t go astray either. A degree in communications or marketing would be useful for any social media role, though good experience will trump a degree in this area every time.
From apps designed to prevent human trafficking to apps that help consumers avoid slave and child labour in fashion, advances in technology mean more ways to respond to human rights violations and more ways to advocate and educate in this space.
In this digital age, tech experts and app developers work with pretty much all human rights organisations and they play an increasingly important role in exposing or avoiding human rights abuses.
Demand for software developers in human rights organisations large and small is likely to keep growing much faster than many other occupations, which makes it an increasingly great way to start a career in human rights.
How to get there
Becoming a software developer is probably a lot less difficult than it sounds. While there are plenty of Computer Science degrees at universities, there are also many short courses available that allow people to start developing software in just a few months. There are some ‘cowboy’ operators though, so have a search around for one with a good reputation.
Importantly, since technology is changing all the time, if you plan to work in any tech role in the human rights sector, you will need to commit to continuous learning of new tech skills, to keep on top of industry trends.
Anyone can be an activist, whether it’s your paid job or not! When you’re campaigning for something you are truly passionate about – whether it’s LGBTQIA+ equality, asylum seeker and refugee rights, preventing violence against women, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice – it feels good to stand up for what’s right.
And the best thing is, you don’t usually need a degree or any particular experience to stand up. There are literally thousands of small organisations across Australia working on human rights issues, and pretty much all of them could use a hand.
How to get there
Volunteer! Immerse yourself in a cause you’re passionate about – getting hands-on experience will teach you much more than reading about it could ever do.
And while you won’t be getting paid actual money, volunteering is a rewarding and successful way to start a career as an activist. Volunteering for a cause you are passionate about helps to build your skills and experience and demonstrate to future employers that you have a serious interest in the cause.
There are also plenty of paid roles as an activist or advocate – many of which volunteering will give you an essential grounding for. if you’re looking for a paid role, you might find something you’re interested in here:
Human rights jobs are highly competitive to get hired into – and forging a career in human rights can be challenging once you do.
But with human rights issues seeming only growing in number, and diverse skill sets required to collectively defend human rights worldwide and in your local community, a career in human rights can be an incredibly rewarding experience for anyone wanting to work for a better world.
Photo by Tony Zhen.