Farida Deif is the Canada Director at Human Rights Watch — one of the world’s leading international human rights organizations. Based in Toronto, she monitors human rights abuses across Canada and advocates for a rights-respecting foreign policy. Born in Egypt, she has dedicated her life to advancing human rights in the Middle East and around the world. Taking on one international crisis after another, she plays a vital role in efforts to advance justice and accountability for the world’s most persecuted people.
My first job was… in retail at a clothing store in Ottawa. I was in university at the time, thankful for the extra income, and the colourful characters I had a chance to meet.
My proudest accomplishment is… the life I’ve built for my son and me in Canada after more than a decade abroad. I’m so grateful to be surrounded by a loving and tight-knit community of friends, family, and neighbours.
My boldest move to date was… leaving a coveted job at the United Nations straight out of graduate school to become a researcher at Human Rights Watch. It was a role that I knew would provide massive opportunities for growth and learning. I’ve never looked back.
I decided to dedicate my life to fighting for Human Rights because… the everyday indignities experienced by far too many people deeply trouble me.
The most fulfilling thing about my job is… meeting the fearless human rights activists who fled persecution in their home country and thankfully found safety in Canada.
“Follow your instincts and never make decisions based purely on ego. Both professionally and personally, ego-driven decisions are often the worst ones we make.”
The most challenging setting that I have ever worked in… is prisons, without a doubt. Interviewing detainees puts you face-to-face with life’s full range of tragedy and despair, but sometimes a glimmer of hope too.
My advice to anyone thinking about a career in the Human Rights sector… determine which human rights abuses make you the angriest and how best you can use your skills and experience to meaningfully address them.
If I had five extra hours a day I would spend it… making art, reading fiction, and practicing yoga. Essentially, all things that feed the mind, body, and soul.
My greatest advice from a mentor was… to follow your instincts and never make decisions based purely on ego. Both professionally and personally, ego-driven decisions are often the worst ones we make.
My biggest setback was… the sudden loss of my mother when I was sixteen. She was my home and compass, and it was hard to find my bearings for a long time.
I overcame it by… cultivating and building community. I realized that being an expert on loss forced me to become an expert on rebuilding too. This was the silver lining.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… not being afraid to fail, embarrass myself, and grow into a role that I may not be quite ready for yet.
I surprise people when I tell them… I was a documentary filmmaker for a few years. It was so strange yet wonderful for me to use the artistic side of my brain every day.
The future excites me because… it’s filled with so many opportunities to surprise ourselves with what we can overcome and achieve.