Dena Mekawi is a Social Impact Strategist, and an NGO Youth Representative to the United Nations Department of Public Information for Women’s National Book Association. She is the founder of Style & Resilience, which is a media platform that drives social change through self-expression. Style and Resilience aims to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The New Agenda and MALA are proud to launch the “Women of the USA,” a campaign to showcase Muslim women’s stories and voices.  Our goal is to spotlight the diversity and accomplishments of Muslim American women.  If you would like to share your story as part of this series, please submit your information here. Join the conversation by using #WOTUSA, and share your voice with us.

 

Since I was young, I’ve always found joy in self-expression through fashion. I remember as a Muslim first generation American, I would flip magazines and watch media, and never felt my image nor my heritage was represented. As a teenager, we are heavily influenced by media messages. There was a point in time where I had low self-esteem, and it stemmed from trying to achieve unrealistic standards of beauty. I realized how much I was trying to fit in, rather than creating my own lane. It was when I started seeing empowering media messages, that represented diversity that I gained my confidence, slowly. Also, growing up I didn’t see Arab Women included in mainstream media’s dialogue. This is when I realized, I need to create my own lane, while also being the force behind media messages showcasing diversity and inclusion.

Growing up as a Muslim, we are faced with some of the cultural ideologies about the role of women and girls. I was shocked to see how becoming a successful Arab woman was sort of like a taboo. You would always be asked “Why aren’t you married, are you ok?”

Yes I am okay… are you okay for not realizing that we need to shift our old school cultural beliefs about the role of women, especially in Islam? Luckily, my parents never forced such practices on me, however it still was a challenge at times to allow my parents to start breaking from that misconception on a small scale.

This is why, unapologetically I decided to break that barrier and set an example for Arab girls.

In 2013, I ran for Miss Arab USA. I met some talented Arab women. I came back, and I was given the opportunity to be a Youth Representative to the United Nations Department of Public Information for Women’s National Book Association, as well as most recently a Youth Representative for Pathways to Peace. Through this role, it gives me a platform to engage women and youth globally, to tackle some of the world’s pressing issues. From workshops, to creating partnerships with private sectors, this role has truly enabled me to serve others through my experiences.

 
I have a Masters degree in Digital Publishing from Pace University. I realized my passion for media and literacy can be used to make an impact. I used my experiences of growing up facing discrimination, and experiencing self-esteem issues as a tool to empower this generation of youth through a creative dialogue. My ongoing mission is to drive a shift in the way media and entertainment engage with civil society, and youth. I also do consulting services for businesses, and those wanting to enhance cultural diversity through media inclusion.

Most recently launched Style & Resilience, which is a media platform that drives social change through self-expression. Style and Resilience aims to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We profile and highlight resilience through self-expression, and we plan to host an event in NYC in the fall, and eventually taking it global markets. Through this, I integrate cultural conversations and develop it into business imperatives.

Find your purpose, then use that as a tool to create social change. I always loved fashion. I wasn’t able to become a fashion designer, but I am now able to design people’s path and empower them through my platform. Especially in this era, we need to unite and create unity. We each have a role to play, let’s use our voice and platform to empower our generation.

 

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