"When I was growing up, I always wanted to make the world a better and freer place by making a positive difference in people’s lives."
Two indelible geopolitical moments propelled Malaak Jamal, BA’13, toward wanting to make the world a better place.
The daughter of immigrant parents from Lebanon, Jamal had her first life-changing moment at 10 years old, on September 11, 2001. “Following the attacks, it was as if there was a conflict between being Middle Eastern and Muslim and being an American. Even though I was young, I knew from my own life experiences that I didn’t need to choose between the two — they’re interrelated and central to my identity.”
Then, during her senior year in high school, as she mulled possible majors and colleges, she also paid close attention to the 2008 presidential election in the United States. “I remember following the debates between then-candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, with a particular interest in how they would approach foreign policy.”
These events, and her growing investment in global affairs, sparked Jamal’s interest in political science, international relations and sociology, eventually leading to her job at the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) as its policy officer, and now director of policy and research.
HRF is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. HRF unites people in the common cause of defending human rights and promoting liberal democracy. They defend, partner with, and give a platform to human rights activists who are boldly changing their communities and countries, connecting activists to industry leaders, and developing modern solutions to combat the worst human rights violations.
“HRF is a natural fit for me, given my personal and academic background,” she says. Her undergraduate and graduate education, Jamaal noted, “provided me with a solid foundation for the work that is done within the legal and policy team. At HRF, I found that I could take all of the knowledge that I possess and turn it into substantive and impactful work.”
As HRF’s policy officer, Jamal provided policy advice on where the organization should focus its advocacy, impact litigation and research efforts. And now as the director of policy and research Jamaal oversees HRF’s research and analyzes political regime developments in countries under authoritarian rule.
“My main focus is to manage HRF’s political regime project, which classifies all of the countries in the world by their regime type,” she says. Jamal monitors the political regime and human rights developments taking place in HRF’s countries of focus. “The project categorizes countries into three regime types — democratic, competitive authoritarian, and fully authoritarian. It identifies the countries where HRF should be targeting its work. According to HRF’s research, 94 countries in the world are ruled by authoritarian regimes, and 54 percent of the world’s population is living under authoritarianism.”
Jamal also oversaw the speaker-selection process for HRF’s annual conference, the Oslo Freedom Forum. Some of the work she is most proud of includes a policy memo and two op-eds she coauthored, which ran in TIME magazine and The Washington Post, covering the topics of human trafficking, Ethiopian leadership, and authoritarianism.
“Knowing that I was able to educate people on the topics of human trafficking and the current political and human rights developments in Ethiopia has been very rewarding.”
She is educating people on the most urgent human-rights issues the world faces through her writing and calls-to-action.
“When I was growing up, I always wanted to make the world a better and freer place by making a positive difference in people’s lives,” Jamal says. “And that is exactly what HRF is all about. It focuses on helping the people in the world who need it the most — people who lack basic fundamental rights — whether it be through its events, programs, research or litigation and advocacy efforts.”
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