MHR student Richa Sharma dedicates summer to combating gender-based violence

Richa Sharma dedicated her summer to protecting those most vulnerable to sexual and gender based violence to ensure the cycle of violence is broken. As a Masters of Humans Rights student, Richa spent the summer in Geneva, Switzerland as an intern for the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) Unit within the Division of International Protection (DIP) at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The SGBV unit focuses on providing protection for displaced women, girls, men, and boys against SGBV through prevention and/or response measures.

During the first week of her internship Richa attended a global workshop on mainstreaming SGBV prevention and response. There, she was able to meet colleagues from the headquarters and from field offices around the world. Based on the information presented and ideas generated at the workshop, Richa helped develop an internal three-year plan of action on mainstreaming SGBV prevention and response. The workshop also provided space for people to discuss self-care and express honest reflections on the difficulty of practicing these activities when working with vulnerable populations and in volatile environments. In addition, Richa helped the 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 Richa ample opportunity to attend interesting talks and presentations on various topics.

While Richa found the internship to be interesting and fulfilling she also faced some difficulties and identified areas where she thinks UNHCR could improve. For example, especially as a former refugee, Richa felt that UNHCR did not adequately include refugee voices in their work. Richa indicated that there is recognition of this issue and there are people working on it but as the UN is a large bureaucracy she recognizes that it takes time to make change happen.

Reflecting upon her experience at UNHCR, Richa not only gained experience in the field she is passionate about, but it solidified her understanding that advancing the common good comes in various shapes and forms. Working at the headquarters enabled Richa to see firsthand different levels and sectors working together in a unique way towards a better world for displaced people. From here, Richa will continue to seek new ways to work with people who challenge her understanding of the world so she can advance the common good.

Along with the rewarding work Richa was a part of at UNHCR, she was also able to venture out and explore Geneva with the tight knit community she created inside and outside of work. Through her connections with her alma mater Carleton College, she met with Carleton alumni in Geneva and performed informational interviews with former students who are in various stages in their professional careers. She intends to keep in contact with these people to seek advice in her job search process.

Richa was awarded the Larson Human Rights Fellowship from the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center that made her summer internship in Geneva possible. She would also like to thank the Human Rights Program faculty and staff for the big role they played in helping her secure this unforgettable internship at UNHCR.

Read a Q&A with Richa about her summer internship in Geneva here.

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