Samah Hadid is an international human rights and social justice campaigner, as well as an advocacy specialist. Most recently she was the Australia Director for The Global Poverty Project. She has previously completed a fellowship with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and selected as the Australian Youth Representative to the UN in 2010. Editor at large of Right Now, Andre Dao, recently caught up for a chat.
What motivated you to become a human rights advocate? And what keeps you going?
Growing up as part of a community and minority group that faced direct and indirect discrimination certainly opened my eyes to injustice and disadvantage in Australian society. Through advocating for the rights of my community and against racism, I was also made aware of the broader and deeper levels of human rights violations taking place nationally and internationally. I suppose it was at that moment, during my adolescence, when I started campaigning on human rights issues.
Meeting and working with human rights advocates worldwide, especially women human rights defenders gives me the inspiration I need to keep going. It isn’t always easy defending human rights in certain parts of the world, particularly the Middle East where I currently work, and seeing friends detained for exercising their right to protest is tough but the determination and unwavering spirit of activist and civil society actors keeps me motivated.
What was it like to be a young person participating in a huge global organisation like the UN?
Confronting... not for me but for the diplomats I worked with! I don’t think the diplomatic corps were used to seeing an assertive young Muslim Australian woman negotiating across the table, so suffice to say I was a confusing character. Interestingly, for a very long time I aspired to work in the corridors of power at the UN, and when I finally got there I quickly realised how disconnected this institution was from grassroots struggles and human rights issues. I remember negotiating a human rights resolution for the Third Committee [which focuses on social, cultural and humanitarian matters], it was at the end of a long day of debating over semantics, and I turned to look outside to see a protest near the UN building. I realised then and there that perhaps my role was to be among the protestors and civil society pushing for stronger action from world leaders and mobilising the public which is essential to social movements.
You’re quite active on social media. How do you see the relationship between social media and human rights advocacy?
Social media is a vital tool, a modern day means for advocacy but it doesn’t replace the need for substantive content and smart strategy. I saw first-hand the power of social media in mobilising masses and projecting messages far and wide during the Arab uprisings, but behind that was a bold call to action and rigorous offline mobilisation – these elements are still key. Of course, the added benefit of social media in our age is that governments can no longer hide or downplay human rights violations in their countries as these abuses are shared and spotlighted worldwide thanks to this platform.
What’s the greatest challenge facing global humanitarian programs?
Tough question. There are many challenges facing the humanitarian system but chief among them is the lack of resources and funding to address the intensity and number of crises currently facing parts of the world. The funding is simply not keeping up with the humanitarian need. Therefore, more than ever an emphasis on conflict prevention and tackling root causes of conflict is necessary to prevent humanitarian crises – this is where protection and promotion of human rights is key.
What are you proudest of in your professional career so far?
Working with very powerful feminists and civil society actors in Egypt and the broader Middle East and North Africa region to tackle sexual violence in fragile states has been a huge learning experience. Seeing the impact of our work in spite of the immense barriers to advocacy in the Middle East was really amazing. And so to work with dedicated campaigners and advocates on this issue, in this part of the world, has served as one of the most meaningful periods in my career and my activism as well.