Patricia Munatsi graduated from UCD Sutherland School of Law in 2020 with an LLM in International Human Rights Law. She is the Policy Lead for the Irish Network Against Racism. She is also a researcher, speaker, writer, gender activist, equality, diversity & inclusion advocate, and an anti-racism trainer.
1. What made UCD stand out as the place you wanted to pursue your studies?
I grew up in Zimbabwe, a mono-cultural country, and the idea of studying for my master’s degree at a global, multicultural institution was quite appealing as you can imagine. The richness and quality of education that comes from having a diverse class and faculty members was not something I could resist. Additionally, the variety of human rights courses UCD offers and the level of expertise drew me in. I wanted to further my knowledge of the intersectionality of business and human rights, and UCD offered me the opportunity to do just that. Also, UCD has a great campus, and l have always loved architecture.
2. You were mid-masters when Covid hit, how did you deal with this most unusual disruption in a country that was relatively new to you?
It was difficult at first to adjust to my new reality where l no longer had physical classes and could not meet up with friends on campus. Like everyone else, l turned to social media, particularly video calling family and friends (including those still living on campus with me). I took daily walks around campus, which helped me significantly to cope with depression and being homesick. In the end, it made me strong and taught me to be okay spending time with myself. I also started my fitness journey – at first, it was just to pass time, but then it became my lifestyle so l am grateful for that. I also picked up reading again!
3. Have you been back to campus since graduation?
Yes, more times than l can count including on my graduation day. Sometimes l just sit on one of the many benches, read a book, and enjoy the view.
4. What led you to a career in human rights law?
I grew up in rural Zimbabwe where l was exposed to huge inequalities, extreme poverty, glaring gender disparities, and sexual and domestic violence. The society that raised me taught me that your gender, social status, tribe, ethnicity, and political affiliation have a bearing on justice and access to opportunities, and that did not sit well with me. Those experiences planted a seed in me for human rights and social justice.
Like many women and girls l knew, I too fell victim to sexual abuse. The culmination of my personal struggles to regain my sense of self-worth and agency fed into my impetus to pursue a career in human rights law. I was hungry to make a difference, to stand in the gap and transform people’s lives. I was also very fortunate to have a big brother who was a fierce human rights defender, who inspired me to follow through despite the dangers of being a human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe.
5. What is a typical day like for you in the Irish Network Against Racism?
I work in policy, so almost every day there is drafting and research work on various human rights, equality and non-discrimination issues. I also advise people who call us about racism and racial discrimination.
There is always something happening in the human rights field, emerging issues that require immediate responses and policy interventions. My typical day is always busy but I enjoy working with communities; they give me so much hope because they have so much to give. When l go home at the end of the day no matter how busy it is or how tired I am, knowing that someone’s life is better is beyond fulfilling for me.
6. What are the most challenging aspects of your role?
I think the most challenging aspect of my role is always having to remember who l represent. It’s easy to forget the needs of the communities we work with, or for issues to be lost in translation. It goes without saying, working in anti-racism puts a target on my back. I am attacked online regularly and receive hate mail and phone calls at our offices from racists threatening to destroy us. I live in fear that someone might actually follow through with their threats, and that is constantly on my mind.
7. What is the proudest moment of your career to date?
The proudest moment of my career is seeing communities thrive. For me, it is always about the people, ensuring access to justice, recognition, and development of our society’s most vulnerable. If there is even one person who says their life is better because I existed, I know l have changed the world, one person at a time.
8. How has your career impacted the way in which you see the world?
Being a human rights lawyer has transformed my worldview in so many ways. It has given me an opportunity to see people’s lives up close and walk the journey with them. Working with vulnerable communities has allowed me to see beyond my struggles, or my country’s struggles, and see injustice everywhere. It has taught me that our lives are all connected, no matter our geographical location. We can not achieve a just, equitable and sustainable future without taking everyone on board.
9. What advice would you give to someone who is keen to work in this field?
I would say being a human rights lawyer is not easy. Change takes time, but it is an absolutely fulfilling career. You will get a chance to witness how human rights transform people’s lives, even those that society has forgotten.
10. What failures have you learnt from?
My career has taught me that you do not always win from working outside the tent. Sometimes you must work from inside the tent, sit down and negotiate, even with those you fundamentally do not agree with, in order to bring change.
11. What do you think your career priorities will be in 10 years’ time?
I will continue to work with marginalised communities and develop my experience and expertise within the human rights field. I also intend to pursue a PhD in the coming few years and contribute to the human rights, equality, and non-discrimination discourse and pass down the knowledge to the younger generation.
12. Your job is quite intense – what do you do to unwind or relax?
I grew up singing in church, so I listen to music and sing most of the time. I also love to read and I go out with my friends.
13. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Every day you wake up you only have one responsibility: to be better than you were yesterday.
14. Finally, what do you miss most about Zimbabwe?
I miss my mother the most, but I also miss the food, music, people, the vibes, and of course the sun!
To find out more about the Irish Network Against Racism and the work Patricia and the team do there, check out their website here.