Perdita Huston Human Rights Award Honoree
By Christian Gineste, UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee Co-Chair
Gayatri Patel is currently the Vice President of External Relations at the Women’s Refugee Commission. She has over two decades of experience in women’s rights and gender equality.
Gayatri previously served as the Director of Gender Advocacy at CARE USA, where she drove initiatives on women’s economic empowerment, gender-based violence, and gender equality in humanitarian emergencies. Prior to joining CARE, Gayatri spent nearly 10 years advising the U.S. State Department on a variety of human rights and humanitarian issues, including spearheading a multi-stakeholder strategy in the Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration to improve protection for migrants caught in countries in crisis.
Model United Nations (the type of program that has grown under Global Classrooms® DC (GCDC)) sparked Gayatri's interest in international relations and human rights in high school. As a student, she was inspired by the work of many female leaders, including then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. Several years later, as a human rights professional, she met with a young girl who had been the victim of abuse and child trafficking. Gayatri still remembers the conversation she had with her and how she described the love and support she had received from her community. That emotional bond between victims and the communities that support them is what inspires Gayatri's work every day. As a human rights defender, she explained, "you see the worst and the best of humanity."
When asked why the United Nations' work is important to her personally and as a leader, Gayatri emphasized that the UN's convening power can bring people together around human rights and ground global cooperation in advancing human dignity. Throughout her career, she has emulated that approach, building coalitions that advocate on women’s rights and gender equality on Capitol Hill and galvanizing attention to gender-based violence.
Among her goals for the next five years, Gayatri mentioned her desire to continue to speak up on behalf of women and girls who are excluded from decision making. She believes all women and girls should receive the same opportunities to be heard and have an impact on society that she did.
Gayatri also shared her own perspective on what it means to be a leader. Based on her own experience, she sees leadership as the ability to use one's voice and privilege to reflect the views of those one represents. According to her, being able to distinguish when to compromise and when to hold firm is a critical skill. Seeing the rights and lived experiences of people captured and reflected in legislation or in funding decisions is, in her view, one of the most rewarding aspects of leadership.
Gayatri concluded with a few words of encouragement to young leaders: "Be passionate about what you do. Your strongest argument is the one that comes from your heart."