Sarah Brun graduated from the IB Diploma Programme (DP) at the International School of Stavanger (ISS) in Norway. She now works for UN Women, living in Egypt working towards women’s rights in the Arab region.
Why did you originally decide to pursue an IB diploma?
I knew that I wanted to pursue a degree outside of my home country, and was also looking for a curriculum that allowed me to actively engage in discussions, develop critical thinking skills, and delve deeper into the subjects that I was most interested in. The DP offered all those things, including a well-rounded approach; and an opportunity to work on both community service and an extended research essay. I also appreciated the theory of knowledge (TOK) course, which was unique and did challenge us to question everything, in a non-judgmental space that allowed for freedom of thought and creative thinking. All of the above prepared me well for university, and made that first essay that was due in my political science class manageable – though still daunting of course.
Which of your IB teachers inspired you most?
I had a lot of great teachers during my time at ISS. I think one of the most memorable teachers is Mr. Næss, who taught history as well as coordinating the Model United Nations group, of which I was a part of. The teaching was memorable because it presented history in a way that allowed us to both learn the facts, but also to critically analyze how they shaped our society, how they can be skewed, and – how history, and perhaps more importantly how it is taught, shapes our personal world views.
How did you reach where you are today?
Today I am working on gender equality in the Arab region with UN Women, a challenge that is both inspiring and frustrating. While Model United Nations prepares one for debate and for research, the field-level work of the United Nations is completely different. It combines development with policy support and also the high-level diplomacy element, all the while navigating biases (including one’s own), complex conflicts and sometimes centuries of inequalities. I joined the UN nearly 8 years ago, initially as a Junior Professional Officer funded by the government of Norway, and then stayed on in a fixed term position. In my current function I work directly with senior management, supporting coordination and partnerships, policy and normative work, as well as programme development.
"I am inspired daily by the people I meet, the women and men who are champions of empowerment in their communities, who are speaking up, asking difficult questions, and, yes, at times risking their own lives to do so."
Every day is different, and every day I have to use skills acquired along the way, be that the ability to write briefing notes quickly, under pressure, to be conscientious, impartial and factually accurate; or navigate a complex landscape of partnerships and politics; or think differently, creatively, on how to address old challenges (gender inequalities) in new and innovative ways. I am inspired daily by the people I meet, the women and men who are champions of empowerment in their communities, who are speaking up, asking difficult questions and, at times, risking their own lives to do so.
I am also frustrated that we are still having this conversation in 2018, when we know – and we have evidence – that gender equality benefits all; it contributes to greater economic growth, a more socially just society, and women's engagement in peace processes is more likely to lead to lasting peace agreements. We have this evidence, yet we still must make the case; be that for something as familiar as equal pay, or for women in leadership or simply freedom of movement, freedom of choice and the freedom to enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men. If we are truly to progress, we need to crack the gender inequality challenge – and that is what I am working on; and why I keep working in this field.