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How To Become a Human Rights Activist

So, you want to be a human rights activist. What does that term even mean? It can mean a lot of things, including working full-time at an organization or dedicating a large chunk of your free time to a cause. Anyone can be an activist. Here are ten tips:

#1: Commit to small actions

The easiest things you can do on your journey to becoming a human rights activist are very small. Donate money to causes you care about, write letters, and sign petitions. These may seem insignificant, but they’re a great starting point and can make a difference for the people affected.

#2: Get educated on issues

You won’t know what’s going on in the world of human rights unless you do some research. Knowledge is power, and you’ll find what really sparks your passion when you start seeing injustices. Digging deeper will also show you what other activists are doing to solve problems and how your skills could be relevant.

#3:  Join a local group

Big organizations like Amnesty International usually have local chapters all over the place that you can join as a volunteer, if not as an employee. Pretty much all career activists will volunteer before they are paid; it proves you’re really in it for the cause and are willing to sacrifice your free time.

#4: Get involved in the political process

The state of human rights is largely determined by who is in power. If you are a citizen of a country that votes for its government, you need to vote. That’s the least you could do. Activists will most likely not be satisfied with just heading to the polls, so get involved in other ways, like by volunteering for candidates you’re passionate about.

#5: Students, look for classes and degrees in relevant fields

If you’re in school and interested in pursuing some kind of career in human rights, search out classes that will build up your knowledge. Schools will also have degrees with human rights specializations that you can study for. Lots of jobs in the human rights field will require these types of degrees, so if you’re serious about a possible career, see what your school has to offer.

#6: Get experience

Besides a relevant degree, experience is also crucial for budding human rights activists. You can get in the field through volunteering and internships; they’re just as important as taking the right classes or reading the right books in terms of fully understanding an issue. These experiences will also connect you to organizations and people that can lead you to a permanent career.

#7: Be flexible and willing to go where you’re needed

A human rights activist goes where the issues are. This might mean you take some trips to places you never thought you’d see and possibly stay there for a while. When you’re thinking about your future plans, acknowledge that you’ll need to be flexible about where you look for jobs, volunteer opportunities, and schooling.

#8: Come up with a personal mission statement

What’s a “personal mission statement?” This is a statement that encompasses your goals, purpose, and the value you bring to the human rights arena. It’s the kind of thing that would go on top of a resume, so the human rights organizations you want to work for get a clear idea of who you are as a person and what you’ll add to a team. Writing this statement (which can be up to three sentences) is an extremely valuable exercise in self-reflection and forces you to dig really deeply into why you have a passion for human rights.

#9: Stand up to oppression and discrimination when you see it

This will most likely come naturally to the type of person who wants to be a human rights activist. When they see injustices in real time, in their own life, they stand up. However, it can sometimes be scary and speaking up might cost you relationships with friends and family. Think about how you stand up based on the situation and what your end goal is – is to change minds? Or is to show victims of oppression that they aren’t alone?

#10: Maintain a support network

Every activist needs a support network because standing up for human rights can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Burnout is very common. Know your limitations and surround yourself with people who can help you work through hard feelings. You should also memorize phone numbers in case you are ever arrested at an event or lose your phone. If you believe you’re going into a potentially-dangerous situation, try not to go alone. Fighting for human rights can feel daunting, so prepare for opposition, stay organized, and stay sharp.

About the author

Human Rights Careers

Human Rights Careers (HRC) aims to help human rights students, recent graduates and young professionals to pursue a career in the highly competitive field of human rights.