Article first published in ORBIT (Vol. IX No. 2 | July-September 2021)
“It is time to regroup and re-energise our quest to create a more equal, more just, more sustainable world in which all people can realise their human rights without discrimination and without fear,” said António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), recently.
Acknowledging significant victories achieved over recent decades, the UN chief emphasised that progress has been slow. According to a UN communication, regressive laws, violence targeting women and girls, and the “seismic shocks” of the COVID-19 pandemic have decimated many gains.
The vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, is of a world in which human rights of all are fully respected and enjoyed in conditions of global peace. However, the reality is that these standards are too often ignored or unfulfilled.
This is where Human Rights and Gender activists have a crucial role to play – to be a voice for the victims of human rights violations and gender injustices.
The two areas – Human Rights and Gender Studies – are interconnected in several ways. This is because there are many human rights violations that are gender specific.
What do Human Rights activists do?
Human Rights activists campaign against discrimination, uphold political freedom, protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and bring offenders to justice. They investigate and expose human rights violations and hold abusers accountable.
They also enlist the public and the international community to support the cause of human rights for all. As torture persists in our world and takes on new forms, human rights activists campaign for the eradication of this crime against humanity. Rights of refugees are also taken up against the backdrop of war or economic and social conditions.
Some of the responsibilities include:
- Urgent action to document human rights violations, publicise it on a wide scale and press the authorities concerned to stop the violations
- Publicise the work of activists through media coverage
- Issue reports and quarterlies of activists in which they express their ideas on human rights and share experiences and information
- Organise symposiums and seminars to highlight the issue
Gender Studies & Activism
Gender studies is an interdisciplinary field aimed at analysing gender identity and gendered representation. It incorporates women’s studies (including women, feminism and politics), men’s studies and queer studies.
Gender researchers evaluate how traditional questions, theories and analyses have failed to take gender into account.
The field is devoted to uncovering the ways in which social and cultural assumptions and structures are shaped by gender.
The objectives include:
- Raising new questions and accepting perceptions and experiences of different genders as real and significant
- Correcting misconceptions about different genders and identifying ways in which traditional methodologies may distort our knowledge
- Theorising about the place of women and other marginalised genders in society and appropriate strategies for change
- Examining the diversity of gender-based experiences and ways in which class, race, sexual orientation and other variables intersect with gender
Charting a career in Human Rights & Gender
For most of the courses, a graduate degree in any subject stream is required.
The study of Human Rights includes: Human Rights Theory, International Human Rights Law, Human Rights & Civil Liberties, Human Rights of Women & Children, Human Rights of Tribal and Indigenous Groups, International Humanitarian and Refugee Law, etc.
Not many BA in Gender Studies courses are available in universities. However, it can be studied at the undergraduate level as part of BA in Sociology or BA in Social Work.
To specialise in Gender Studies, you need a master’s level qualification. You can also opt for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on Coursera, Udemy, etc.
As part of Gender Studies, you will study courses like: Gender, Power, Leadership & the Workplace; Women & Gender Studies; Sexual & Gender Identities; Gender, Health & Society; Identity & Difference; Race & Gender; Women & Wars; Gender & Representation, etc.
There are many challenging openings for specialists in Human Rights and Gender. Most of these are in NGOs, UN bodies, HR Training organisations and educational institutions. In addition, consulting assignments are possible in government bodies, market research organisations, etc.
- In NGOs or the government, you can work in various capacities such as a programme officer and manager, social policy researcher and consultant.
- International NGO groups such as Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, International League for Human Rights, International Institute of Human Rights, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, WHO, Red Cross, etc., also do extensive work in the fields of Human Rights & Gender.
- Specialists in these fields can also join the departments of Political Science/ International Relations/ Law in colleges and universities as faculty members.
- You may also consider freelance writing for newspapers and magazines.
- Human Rights Law and Gender Law are new specialisations in these areas.
Institutions where you can pursue your studies
Some of the best Indian colleges/universities for studying Human Rights related courses are (indicative list) :
- Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi
- Calcutta University, College Street, Kolkata
- Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi
- Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
- Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh
- Indian Institute of Human Rights, New Delhi
- University of Pune
- Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi
- Centre for Human Rights, University of Pondicherry
- National Law School of India University, Bangalore (for Human Rights Law)
- NALSAR, Hyderabad (for Human Rights Law)
- National Human Rights Commission of India, Sardar Patel Bhawan, New Delhi (conducts research programmes)
For Gender Studies, you may consider the following in India (indicative list) :
- SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai
- School of Gender Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Deonar, Mumbai
- Women’s Studies Research Centre, The MS University of Baroda, Vadodara
- Centre for Women’s Development Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi
- Centre for Women’s Studies (CWS), University of Calcutta
- Xavier’s Centre for Gender Studies, St Xavier’s College, Kolkata
- School of Women’s Studies, Jadavpur University, Kolkata
- Centre for Women’s Studies & Development, Panjab University
- CWS, Alagappa University, Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu
- CWS, Pondicherry University
- CWS, University of Hyderabad
- National Law School of India University, Bangalore (for Gender Law)
- NALSAR, Hyderabad (for Gender Law)
Internationally, most top universities across the world offer courses in Human Rights and Gender Studies.
Human Rights & Gender Studies will grow in influence
Human Rights and Gender will continue to grow in influence and play an increasingly significant role in the protection of civil, political and gender rights, awareness and action throughout the world.
Mounting pressure of public opinion in the years to come will continue to have a positive effect in persuading errant governments to make suitable amends.
If you have a passionate desire to ensure justice and safeguard fellow human beings from societal wrongs, these fields are ideal for you. Become a champion for a just and humane world. All the best!