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Careers in Social Justice and Human Rights

Careers in social justice and human rights are both rewarding and competitive. We have compiled a list of common social justice and human rights career paths for your consideration.


Lawyers interested in human rights and social justice issues advocate on behalf of victims of abuse, persecution, civil rights violations, and other violations of people’s rights. They work at the local, national, and international level at nonprofit organizations, private law firms, international organizations, and more.  Those interested in this area of law could specialize in international human rights law or human rights and civil rights laws within their country. Social justice and human rights law covers a number of issues including gender equality, land rights, violence against women, war crimes, LGBTQ issues, freedom of press and speech, indigenous rights, and more.

Qualifications: Those wishing to pursue a career as a lawyer in human rights and social justice must obtain a law degree and a certification to practice law in the country in which they wish to work. They should also specialize in human rights, social justice, or a more specific topic under this area of work.

Salary: Salaries for lawyers in human rights and social justice vary depending on whether they are working for a nonprofit organization, private law firm, or international organization, but can range from about $45,000 to up to $200,000.

Read more: How to become a human rights lawyer

Program Officer

Program Office jobs vary but those focused on social justice will have a role in designing, implementing, and managing programs to bring about social change and equality for vulnerable and marginalized populations in the region in which they work. They should have skills in program development, management, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation, research and analysis, and more. Program Officers often work with local organizations and community partners to implement and run the programs their organization is putting in place.

Qualifications: Program Office positions typically require a master’s degree in social justice, human rights, international development, or another related field. They often have to have between 3 and 10 years work experience, depending on the management level the job requires. Program Officers should gain skills in statistics, management, budgeting, as well as program design and development.

Salary: The average Program Office salary is around $67,907 per year, according to Glassdoor.com; however, salaries can range from the low $50,000s to around $110,000.

Read more: Interview with Leo Twiggs, Programme Development Officer with IDLO in The Hague


Researchers focused on social justice issues will focus on gathering information, statistics, and more surrounding issues like racial justice, criminal justice, poverty, LQBTQ issues, gender inequality, indigenous rights, and more. Researchers can work at nonprofits, international organizations, academic institutions, research institutes, and government organizations. They help these entities gather information and stats to support their programs, influence policy and funding, and get information to the public and other relevant stakeholders.

Qualifications: Social justice researchers are required to have at least a master’s degree, if not a PhD level education. Work experience is required for upper level positions, but research assistants may only be required to have a master’s degree or 2 years of experience. They must have strong skills in statistics, qualitative research, surveying, interviewing, writing, organization, and more.

Salary: According to Glassdoor.com, the average salary for a social justice researcher is $60,373, with salaries ranging from about $27,000 to $79,000.

Read more: How to become a human rights researcher

Policy Analyst

Policy Analysts focusing on social justice issues are often concerned with local and national civil and human rights policies; however, they can work at the local, national, or international level for non-governmental organizations, government offices, international organizations, and think tanks. Policy analysts should have skills in research and analysis, as well as a working knowledge of law and policy within the region in which they work. Policy Analysts are typically responsible for keeping up with changes and trends in economics, social concerns, politics, and other relevant events so they can recommend and influence policy in the best way possible for the focus area.

Qualifications: Policy Analysts should have at least a master’s degree in political science, international affairs, public policy, or a related field. Some positions may require a doctoral degree. They should gain skills in political science, economics, statistics, and policy analysis. Focusing on a specific topic or region may be helpful in qualifying for some jobs.

Salary: Salaries for Policy Analysts vary greatly depending on the workplace, location, and level of job. Glassdoor.com reports that the average salary for a Policy Analyst is $67,691.

Social Service Worker

Social Service Workers work towards social justice and human rights in the most hands-on approach. They work directly with the people to help them connect to services they need and to help build communities through social and development programs. Social Service Workers generally work at the local or state levels with non-governmental organizations or local government agencies, but field officers in international organizations do similar work. Social Service Workers must have a passion for working directly with people and must have great communication skills.

Qualifications: Social Service jobs require a variety of education levels, depending on the job and location. Some may only require a 4-year degree, but many require a master’s degree and/or a certification. Social Service Workers must have strong communication skills, a background in sociology or human services, and a knowledge of the local systems that directly impact the people with which they work.

Salary: Social Service Workers make an average of $45,000, according to PayScale.com, but salaries range from $31,000 to about $66,000.

Learn more: Diversity and Social Justice in Social Work (Free Online Course)


Advocates work in a variety of capacities, particularly at the local and national levels. Advocates can work in roles similar to Social Service Workers, advocating on behalf of victims and marginalized populations for their rights to services and justice. At the national level, social justice advocates often act as lobbyists, pushing certain policies and laws forward that they feel will benefit human and civil rights. Advocates are not lawyers but must have a working knowledge of the law to understand the rights of the people whose rights they are advocating on behalf of.

Qualifications: Advocate qualifications vary depending on the exact nature and location of the job. Those looking to do this type of work should get a degree in sociology, social work, public policy, social justice, human rights, or another related field. Having special knowledge of law can prove very useful in this type of work. Communication skills are also an important skill for this type of work.

Salary: Reports for various types of advocate job have an average salary of about $31,000 for social advocates. Lobbyists make an average of about $72,000, depending on the location and their employer.

Read more about careers in human rights

About the author

Allison Reefer

Allison Reefer is a young professional living in Pittsburgh, PA. She works with a refugee resettlement agency to help refugees and immigrants in the city, and she volunteers with a local shelter for human trafficking victims. She obtained her Master in International Development from the University of Pittsburgh and a BA in Writing from Geneva College, focusing most of her academic work on human trafficking and migration in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In her free time, she loves to write, read, sing and play bass guitar, practice Russian, and explore her city.

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