NAYA | Joyce Azzam: Climbing her way toward breaking stereotypes

So far, Azzam has climbed 26 mountains around the world.
by Paula Naoufal

9 August 2018 | 14:57

Source: by Annahar

  • by Paula Naoufal
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 9 August 2018 | 14:57

This photo shows Joyce Azzam. (HO)

BEIRUT: Women in sports is still a controversial issue. Men get 30% more prize money in sports and just 5% of sports media coverage features women. Joyce Azzam, however, is breaking this stereotype.

She’s the first Lebanese woman to do the “seven summit challenge.” The ‘Seven Summits’ is the name given to the challenge of climbing the highest point in each of the seven continents.

Azzam is a Lebanese Conservation Architect and a Mountaineer, with a Ph.D. in Landscape & Environment, and a Master’s Degree in Conservation of Historic Cities & Buildings. She started developing a passion for the outdoors since an early age, with made her turn into a Mountaineer.

She started to connect with nature by searching for mountains, which, she believed, is a way to connect with people and socialize. So far, Azzam has climbed 26 mountains around the world.

She came first in a 40 km trail-running team competition organized by the army, completed the grueling Tour de Suisse cycling, and successfully reached the finishing line three times in the 42 km Beirut Marathon.

She decided to do “the seven summit challenge” in collaboration with Himaya, which is a Lebanese NGO that promotes child protection via fighting and preventing child abuse. So far, she has completed Denali, Mt Elbrus, Aconcagua, Mt Kilimanjaro, Carstensz Pyramid and Kosciuszko. She is also hoping to complete Mt Vincent and Mt Everest.

The number of people who have completed the seven summits is 148 with very few of them being women. To reach the highest summits of the world, Joyce has to go through a disciplined training routine of more than 20 hours per week.

Azzam has collaborated with Himaya to deliver a message to children. She visits schools and universities as Himaya’s ambassador and shares her story and upcoming journey with more than 1000 children and community members. The project’s main objective is to, inspire children and youth to pursue their life goals and to face their fears and be bold.

She said that with every mountain she climbs, she aims to inspire change in the lives of children, especially young Lebanese, showing them that once they set their mind on a dream, they can achieve it no matter how hard it might seem.

However, it wasn’t always so triumphing for Azzam.

Her path to becoming a mountaineer was bombarded with sexist remarks from people around her. Upon her return home from hikes, her family used to always tell her that what she was doing was not feminine and that she wasn’t acting like a girl.

Even the people around her would tell her that she is wasting her time, and that she should focus on being a professor at her university. They would also always ask her if she was married. “I’m sure they don’t ask male mountaineers if they’re married,” she said.

She admitted that this field is generally male-oriented internationally, but in Europe or the U.S. it’s easier to become a mountaineer. “In Lebanon, I’m a pioneer because I’m breaking away from the trail and achieving something new here,” she told Annahar.

Azzam has been in Lebanon for seven months now and she thinks Lebanese people have lost hope in their dreams. But. she feels differently about the younger generation. She believes that they’re amazed by what she is doing.

Those she inspires are also the ones who inspire her to keep going. “I was going to stop the challenge in November 2017 because of sponsorship issues, but a student sent me a message and invited me to his school. When I went and saw the students amazed at what I do, it kept me going.”

She also added that students never brought up her gender. They merely saw her as an inspirational and determined mountaineer.

She’s also been meeting with important figures to deliver her message. She met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri last week and he encouraged her to continue and persevere in completing her challenge. “He signed my Lebanon flag for my upcoming summit,” she said.

Azzam further emphasized that she had the chance to be sponsored from a foreign university outside of Lebanon, but she wanted to do this from and to Lebanon. She expressed patriotism toward her birthplace. “I want to do this for Lebanon. I want to break this record for Lebanon, since it’s my home,” she told Annahar.

Her final goal is to take on the Explorers Grand Slam, which is the seven summits plus the two poles. Only one woman and 17 people in total have completed this challenge before. She’s hoping to be the second woman in the world and the first Lebanese woman to complete it.

She also shared her motto with Annahar, which fits her perfectly well: “Just like a Mountain Turtle, I go slowly but surely. I carry my home on my back and my Country in my heart.”


Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations-Naya Editor, Sally Farhat:

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