Blending Academia and Grassroots Advocacy Efforts: How a MEPI Alumna is Helping Empower Thousands of Women in Lebanon

As young as eighteen years old, Danya Arayssi (SLP 2018, Lebanon) recognized many of her community’s challenges. Through accounts she heard about women being silenced by cultural norms, traditions, and values, Danya knew that her passion lied in empowering women. Danya explains, “They are silenced to denounce a continuous yet traumatic daily abuse and human rights  violation that they are experiencing  and  even not to being able to express how they are being deprived from accessing equal opportunities in terms of solid education, proper reproductive health care, psychological support system, or even counseling, etc.”

Though Danya was set on changing the status quo by bringing gender equality to her local community, she lacked the expertise to mobilize key stakeholders and empower women in need of support.

Participating in the MEPI Student Leaders Program at Georgetown University in 2018 was a big milestone in her career as an advocate for women’s empowerment. She shares that the program offered her “the full meaning of leadership development, community mobilization, valuable skills related to negotiation, proposal writing, advocacy, and much more.” She also believes that the program has expanded her worldview, especially from the knowledge she gained when engaging with other SLP participants. Danya reflects, “through this program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., I met my fellow MEPI leaders from across the MENA region and beyond, and was able to learn more about organizations promoting change and advocating for social justice, prosperity, and equality for everyone.”

After finishing the program and becoming a fully established MEPI alumna, she founded the Gleam of Hope Group where she works with thousands of youth, women, and girls to increase food and health security in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Danya is currently pursuing her second master’s in Public Policy at the Josef Korbel School of International Relations at the University of Denver, Colorado. Through her writing and research, Danya continues to advocate for women. She is currently reporting on sexual and reproductive health rights to give women the resources they need to gain more self-confidence in themselves and agency in their communities. Her research efforts are part of an advocacy movement to lobby local authorities for legal and political reforms to bring gender equality balance to her local community and prevent discrimination of women. Over the past few years, Danya has offered holistic mental health support for women and girls in her positions at the World Bank, the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures, and the International Council for Diplomacy and Dialogue. She is currently working with female survivors of the explosion in Beirut, Lebanon to offer more psychological and technical support to women and girls “who are often ignored in traumas and conflicts as they experience shocks and tragedies differently,” Danya notes. Danya is planning to organize a series of fundraising events to fund her advocacy work with female survivors of the Beirut explosion.

Danya would like to give the following message to all MEPI alumni: “Do not worry, do not settle or feel discouraged, or weak if everyone was against your ideas, your principles, or your values. If you believe your thoughts can promote a serious change for the entire community’s well-being, fight for your ideas, and never stop until you achieve your objectives and translate your ideas into action plans and realities on the ground.”