Humphrey School News

Protecting Refugees from Sexual Violence

Richa Sharma's summer with the UN High Commission on Refugees gave her greater understanding of how policy affects human rights

August 24, 2017—>Richa Sharma, MHR 2018

Where did you intern this summer?
I interned at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. I was part of the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) unit within the Division of International Protection (DIP). My advisor, Barbara Frey, was instrumental in connecting me to the internship.

Tell us about your internship.
The Sexual and Gender-Based Violence unit’s work focuses primarily on providing displaced people with protection against SGBV through prevention and/or response measures. My first week at the internship included a global workshop on mainstreaming SGBV prevention and response. I observed discussions on best practices and lessons learned between colleagues from the headquarters and from field offices. The workshop mostly informed the meat of my work for the summer. I helped my colleague develop an internal three-year plan of action on mainstreaming SGBV prevention and response based on the ideas that were generated in the workshop. Apart from that, I helped the rest of my eight person unit with various tasks, such as conducting research, creating reports, analyzing monitoring and evaluation results, updating the SGBV Unit page on the global intranet, etc. The internship also gave me ample opportunity to attend interesting talks and presentations.

What in particular made the internship rewarding?
The people. I was fortunate to be part of an incredibly supportive unit. Each of my colleagues encouraged me to ask questions, take breaks if needed, and checked in to see if I was enjoying my work or if I needed anything. I learned not just from working with them on various tasks, but also from observing the way they approached their work. Aside from my colleagues, the friends I made in Geneva really made the experience worthwhile. The city comes alive in the summer and it was very easy to meet people eager to explore it.

How will this internship shape your completion of studies at the Humphrey School?
There were times during the internship where I felt lost and worried I didn’t know enough about the UN system or humanitarianism to fully belong there. Clearly, others were more qualified than me. But what I lacked in specific knowledge, I made up for with the skills I had gained from taking classes and participating in activities that pushed me to think critically, work in groups that are challenging, and listen closely. Luckily, the Humphrey School is full of more opportunities that will help me hone those skills in addition to equipping me with technical knowledge and I aim to take advantage of them.

How do you see this experience impacting your plan to advance the common good after graduation?
This experience solidified my understanding that advancing the common good comes in various shapes and forms. Working at the headquarters not only allowed me to see policy making at the global level, but it also exposed me to partners from different levels and sectors working in unique ways towards a better world for displaced people. I will continue to try to find ways to work with people who challenge my understanding of the world so I can be better at advancing the common good.

Photo: On World Refugee Day, Richa got to meet Deputy High Commissioner Kelly Clements. "I introduced myself to her as a student of Dean Schwartz," Richa said.

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