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In Conversation: Building a Career in Human Rights

Oct 28, 2015 1:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

Recently, CAPA London hosted a day conference on the topic of human rights, inviting a number of powerful speakers to engage with students and staff on a topic that is at the focus of many of the most pressing global challenges today.

Human Rights Conference at CAPA The Global Education Network

Representatives from two of CAPA internship partners - Stonewall and Womankind Worldwide - spoke on the topics of LGBT rights and woman's rights. We caught up with Claire House from Stonewall and Ellen Patterson from Womankind Worldwide after the event to find out a bit about why this field of work is important to them, how CAPA students might build a career in human rights and what were some of the takeaways from the conference itself.

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Claire House is an International Officer at Stonewall, Britain's leading charity for LGBT equality. She recently completed a PhD in political anthropology, focused on LGBT rights activism in Latin America and has been involved in grassroots LGBT and human rights activism for the best part of a decade in Liverpool, Rio de Janeiro and London. 

CAPA WORLD: Why is being involved with human rights issues important to you?
CLAIRE HOUSE: Working on human rights issues is really important to me because I'm working on something that I love. I find it really important to be working from a humanitarian perspective, to be thinking about all different kinds of people the world over, all different situations that they’re going through. I particularly enjoy the human rights field because you can deal with such a huge diversity of topics, everything from indigenous rights to land rights to women’s rights to LGBT rights. Just that concept of minority rights and how different struggles have so many similarities but so many differences keeps it interesting.

Human Rights Conference at CAPA The Global Education Network

CW: What advice could you offer to students who wish to pursue a career in human rights?
CH: It’s important to develop a specialism. It might change but it could be a specialism by theme. It could be that you really care about LGBT rights or about women’s rights so that could be the theme that you want to work on. It gives you the opportunity to work across programs, campaigns, advocacy and training. Or it could be that you really care about designing and delivering training or that you really care about campaigning. But I think it’s really important to find out what you like and to try and specialize around there.

The other bit of advice that I would give is to learn your field really well, including to study up, so not just to learn about the different kinds of struggles that different communities face, but to actually study and get to know the systems that you’re working with, especially the authorities that you’re working with and any laws.

Human Rights Conference at CAPA The Global Education Network

CW: To you, what is the most important lesson that students could take away from your talk at CAPA's Human Rights Conference?
CH: One of the interesting things was - in both mine and the presentation from Ellen at Womankind – the sense of how we work with partnership organizations in different countries. I think that’s true of any kind of well-done human rights work, that you don’t go in and tell people how to do things. One of the most important things is going in and supporting local groups and finding different ways of doing that because they’re obviously in the best place to drive change forward and to explain about their context and to actually make things happen.

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Ellen Petterson is a Programme Officer for Womankind Worldwide, an international women's rights charity working to support women and girls to improve their lives and communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. After completing a Master's degree in Development Administration and Planning at University College London, Ellen started volunteering at Womankind Worldwide, which turned into a permanent role. After a break to join a research project, she returned to the organization and now works on project planning, reporting, monitoring and evaluation. 

CAPA WORLD: Why is being involved with human rights issues important to you?
ELLEN PETTERSON: It’s important to me because I think there’s still so much more to be done both in the UK and globally on women’s rights specifically. I think that there’s still inequality in the rights and opportunities between men and women, so that’s why it’s important to me. I was thinking back to what I would have felt as a student attending this conference and what a great opportunity it is to be able to listen to and talk to and question people in the sector that you are potentially interested in going into and hearing a bit more about how the theory you’re learning about would then be put in practice.

Human Rights Conference at CAPA The Global Education Network

CW: What advice could you offer to students who wish to pursue a career in human rights?
EP: I would say to try as much as possible. I would recommend volunteering even though it means giving up your time for free. It provides an opportunity to you as you're starting out to get exposure to this sector that you’re potentially interested in as a focus. I would recommend trying different roles, trying to figure out what it is within human rights that you want to do: Do you want to be the planner? Do you want to be a campaigner? A fundraiser? There are so many different things that you can do within human rights. Also, ask as many questions as possible from people who you find inspiring or whose work you’d like to be part of. Just try to get in there.

Human Rights Conference at CAPA The Global Education Network

CW: To you, what is the most important lesson that students could take away from CAPA's Human Rights Conference?
EP: Human rights are universal but you always have to consider the specific context of the situation that you’re looking at. I think that, for me, has been an important takeaway in general around human rights. Everything is always contextualized.

Thank you, Claire and Ellen!

Human Rights: Learn More & Get Involved

Topics: Careers, Human Rights