Things to Know Before Working at a Human Rights Organization

by | Aug 30, 2018

As the part of India fellow program, I worked with Center for Social Justice, a Human Rights Organization in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Following are a few things I’d want others to know before they start working with one such organization:

  • Check your privilege
    Everything about the work in this sector, if you do it right, will cause you to introspect, challenge and look within. Things you’d say or do would be rooted in your beliefs and reflect your privileges. For instance, I took my normal for granted, including being from a financially stable family, where people aren’t abusive. You normal can come from your culture, language, religion, sex, race or lack of physical disability.


  • Equality and Equity
    It is not just about having opportunities to access resources but also weighing how you got that access, whether it is through a non-discriminatory process or provisions have been made for bridging gaps between you and those who couldn’t access them in the same way. It is essential to understand the difference between equality and equity, the former is about treating everyone equally, irrespective of their background while the latter is giving everyone what they need to be successful, bringing them at an equal level.


  • Irony, satire and/or sarcasm
    A lot of discussions and arguments use the language of all three words mentioned above. It would work in your favor, if, other than knowing the subject, you’re able to find ironies, present them with satire, mixing it with a pinch of sarcastic humor. There’s nothing to worry. It’ll come with on-the-job practice.


  • मैं से हम तक (From I to We)
    My experience of working in Human rights, was essentially like internalizing the spirit of ‘Ubuntu’. We would always talk of the community in all aspects of work that was happening whether in field areas or at back office. This journey was always about “Us, as communities, as a society”, not about any “I or an individual”. The larger impact sought to be created, was always for the society.

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  • सबका साथ सबका विकास (With all, for development of all)
    This is an extension of the previous point. When one moves from ‘I’ to ‘We’, specially in a human rights organizations, they work with some of the most vulnerable groups of the society. One needs to see some particularly neglected interests that are under threat or aren’t valued/recognized enough, which will eventually affect all of us in a negative way.


  • जानने का हक़ (Right to information)
    The state works at the behest of its citizenry and by virtue of being a citizen, you have the right to know what the state is doing. How it reaches a conclusion, where do the resources come from,  when is it apt to implement a project, why does it think so, and how much it spends on its activities. Make it a point to repeatedly ask these question, except probably where the nukes are kept!
  • I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it
    Live with your values. You will often find yourself in situations that test how strong is your conviction for the values and beliefs you hold. For instance, if you hold right to speech and expression in high regard, it would not just be about expressing yourself, but also letting others do it, and at the same time, not having to censor anyone in their expression.


  • Learn to Unlearn
    This is something that will happen by the virtue of spaces you’ll find yourself in. Opinions, perspectives and circumstances will force you to challenge your assumptions, rethink about your biases and stereotypes, and let go of what you may have learned all you life, from family, school or society.


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