Elissa Freiha is an Emirati of Lebanese and American descent. She is a passionate entrepreneur, investor, executive producer, and public speaker.
Being also a women’s rights advocate, she crowned her mission by founding Womena, a Digital Media company that creates compelling female-focused content in the MENA region.
- Why have you started this initiative?
I started WOMENA because I wanted to contribute to the improvement of society. I wanted to contribute to making the world a better place by specifically focusing on the communities that I am part of and enhancing their realities.
I started this initiative to help the next generation; almost as a way of making up for the lack of relevant guidance and role models that I had when I was starting as an entrepreneur.
- What was the main challenge and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge has been to convince an existing media ecosystem, that Impact Media is worth backing and supporting.
A lot of the content currently produced and consumed is content without substance: often content is made for entertainment, and even news channels rely on sensationalized trauma and reduction stereotypes.
At WOMENA, we wanted to create content that was true to our community and to our community’s identity. We wanted to represent an accurate portrayal of the diversity of Arab women in our region.
The funny things are, this challenge still persists, and we are still working to overcome it.
We still take a lot longer to convince advertisers, publishers, and platforms that content aimed at impact is as worthy of their support as content that is made for superficial entertainment.
- Can you name three essential components a Leader must possess?
For me, the best leaders are those that are compassionate, authentic, and optimistic. Optimism is crucial because Leaders are charismatic visionaries whom others want to get behind and support. They tend to be dreamers and so therefore they are able to look beyond the difficulties in the realities of the world around them.
Authenticity is a brave trait and by being fearlessly authentic themselves, leaders will in turn permit others to do the same. Lastly, compassion is in direct opposition to what capitalism asks of us, but it is essential. Recognizing the humanity in one another is central to working together towards achieving whatever goal we set out for.
- How can your initiative inspire change?
WOMENA inspires change by showing the diversity and wonder of the modern Arab woman.
We wanted to challenge existing stereotypes and take ownership of our stories.
With every voice, we amplify we’re letting countless others know that they are not alone and that they are a part of a much wider community that will support them in the risks that they take.
We wanted to empower women to make alternate choices in their lives that are truer to them by showcasing a wider spectrum of success and struggle. All that change happens when we start to see what we can be, and we start to believe that we can be more.
- What’s the importance of the “Boo 3al Taboo” rubric on your platform?
“Boo 3al Taboo” is absolutely representative of the core values at WOMENA. We want to boldly break boundaries beyond those that our society may have dared before. We want to be able to say things and have discussions out loud that we all wish we could. The voice of our community refuses to remain silent out of fear or judgment. It is important for us to question and invite others to be curious; through “Boo 3al taboo” we address the countless fundamental taboos that uphold shame and indirectly control the lives of women.
We want to address a lot of the underlying assumptions that our society places on gender roles. We want to start a dialogue about how and why these things need to change.
- If you could introduce one piece of legislation to further gender balance, what would it be?
I think that’s an amazing question. I would start by focusing on education and specifically sexual health and reproductive education for young boys and girls around the region.
Only one out of the twenty-two countries in the Middle East has sexual education as part of the legal curriculum for schools. Without this very critical education, we find that women and men lack a very basic understanding of their own biology and the changes that they are expected to go through in their life.
Without the proper education, knowledge and demystification of the natural, we will continue to foster shame and consequently, gender-based violence around the world.
- What piece of advice would you give to women struggling with limiting beliefs set by their societies?
Be curious about yourself. Get to know yourself first, set your own boundaries, and learn to hear your inner voice. Once you have that, you will feel your strength and power rise and you’ll be able to confront and move beyond those limiting beliefs with confidence.
if you find yourself confronted with people that are not there to support you, try to focus on changing those people and fostering a community like the WOMENA that will help you to embrace a more authentic and happier self.
It’s important that we surround ourselves with people that make us shine brighter, and that we don’t try to appease those who seek to dim our light.
- How can Womena help women?
WOMENA amplifies Women’s voices and their stories in order to expand the choices that women see as available to them and the choices that women feel comfortable making for their own lives.
What we are doing is normalizing diversity, we’re normalizing substance and nuance when it comes to addressing the present and future of Arab women.
The way WOMENA helps women is by simply creating a platform for women to help each other, just by being themselves.
- What’s next for Womena?
WOMENA is going to completely take off very soon. We want to bring these stories to a global audience. We have a few short documentaries that we hope to enter into the festivals next year, and we are excited to announce the production of our first short film which should also make its first appearance in festivals next year.
We will continue to tell the most exciting and honest stories from our community to the world.
Since there’s no glass ceiling for WOMENA, Sky’s the limit.