Sisa Abu Daooh was just 21 and pregnant with a girl when her husband passed away. After giving birth to her daughter, she found herself with no means to support herself and her new born Houda.
Coming from a less privileged community, Sisa, 64, faced a culture that considered it a taboo for women to work, particularly in areas requiring labor.
To get around this, and to ensure Houda was never hungry, Sisa decided to dress herself up as a man.
“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,” Sisa told Al-Arabiya.
On Tuesday, Sisa’s efforts were recognized when Egypt honored her as a model Egyptian woman. The Social Solidarity Directorate of Luxor awarded Sisa the “woman breadwinner” award to recognize her long years of work to provide for her family.
During the 46 years in which Sisa wore a traditional loose robe with wide sleeves often worn by Egypt’s rural men, the mother (and later grand mother) worked in construction, agriculture, cleaning and more.
“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,” she said to Al-Arabiya, adding that she is currently making a decent income by polishing shoes.
Her daughter Houda maintains pride in her mother’s efforts over the years, thanking her for providing for the family.
“My mom is the one who still provides for the family,” said Houda.
“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.”
Despite the stigma, women in Egypt are the main breadwinners in up to 30 percent of households.