In the words of Joyce Azzam: “I tell women and girls to be faithful to their dreams”
Elite Mountaineer Joyce Azzam is UN Women National Goodwill Ambassador for Lebanon. She wants to inspire other Lebanese women and girls to follow their dreams and discover their potential. Azzam is one of the few Arab women and first Lebanese woman to have climbed all world’s Seven Summits. Following her official appointment as UN Women National Goodwill Ambassador, she tells us more about her journey as a woman in sports, her drive and what she hopes to achieve, in her new role.
Since birth I have suffered from hypermobility syndrome. As a young girl, I was unable to practice sports, but at 13 of age, I first completed a 5 km run, following around a year of training. Sport has transformed my life. On May 2007, I stood on the summit of Lebanon’s highest peak, the Black Peak, and I fell in love with mountains, and in 2019, I was able to reach the top of Mount Everest which stands at 8,848 m. I was finally completing a dream of six and a half years to scale the highest mountains of each of the seven continents, also known as The Seven Summits Challenge. My hope is to become one of only two women around the world to have completed the full Explorers Grand Slam in its long-distance version.
As a Lebanese woman mountaineer, I confronted many challenges. For years, I faced a lot of resistance from family and people around me. Instead of giving up on my dream, I have drawn my inspiration from who I am; a Lebanese, and moreover a woman, who had the will and strength to overcome obstacles.
Women mountaineers and sportswomen in general face two significant barriers. The first is a lack of funding, as convincing sponsors to invest in mountaineering expeditions is a constant challenge. The second is a societal challenge, as some friends and family members may view mountaineering as a waste of time for women, believing that it would stand in the way of marriage or starting a family. Despite these challenges, many women have pursued their dreams of mountaineering and other sports, breaking down gender stereotypes and inspiring others to do the same.
I am honored to be appointed as UN Women’s first National Goodwill Ambassador for Lebanon. I am very proud to join UN Women’s family. In my new role, I intend to bring to light issues of women in sport, to address regressive social norms and combat harmful gender norms and stereotypes, in sports and in other sectors, across Lebanon and beyond. Building gender equality will benefit not only women and girls but also men and boys.
Nobody expected me to become a mountaineer, but I challenged gender stereotypes. I tell women and girls to be faithful to their dreams. All we need to do is to give them a voice and a platform and I am sure my partnership with UN Women will provide just that.
This is the time for us all to join forces and to make gender equality a lived reality."