The Egyptian government recently honored a single mother who spent 43 years of her life living like a man to provide for her family.
Sisa Abu Daooh’s husband died when she was only 21 and pregnant with their first child. To survive in a country where women can’t even walk on the streets without the constant fear of being harassed, she had to resort to dire measures.
She disguised herself wearing the “jilbab” which is a long and loose-fit coat or garment with wide sleeves – along with a white turban and masculine shoes.
“I preferred working in hard labor like lifting bricks and cement bags and cleaning shoes to begging in the streets in order to earn a living for myself and for my daughter and her children,” Abu Daooh told Al-Arabiya.
“So as to protect myself from men and the harshness of their looks and being targeted by them due to traditions, I decided to be a man … and dressed in their clothes and worked alongside them in other villages where no one knows me.”
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Now 64 years old, Abu Daooh’s heartrending life-struggle earned her the title of the “ideal mother” of Cairo and she received the “woman breadwinner” award from the provincial government of Luxor in southern Egypt.
Her daughter, Houda, is well-aware of her mother’s sacrifices and she praised her mother for working so hard all her life.
“My mom is the one who still provides for the family,” said Houda, according to Al Arabiya. “She wakes up every day at 6 a.m. to start polishing shoes at the station in Luxor. I carry the work kits for her as she now advanced in age."
From polishing shoes to construction to agriculture, Abu Daooh has done it all. At present, she works as a shoe-shiner – an occupation that helps her earn a “decent income.”
A 2010 Pew research found Egypt as a country where “women in the workplace clearly take a back seat to men and equal rights are a goal rather than reality.” Nearly 75 percent respondents said that men should have more right to work than women when jobs are scarce.