In Brief

Egyptian woman who lived as man given 'best mum' award

Sisa Abu Daooh has spent the last 40 years dressing and working as a man to provide for her family

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Sisa Abu Daooh has been honoured as Egypt's best mother for dressing up as a man for decades in order to look after her children.

The 64-year old mother and grandmother from Luxor was presented with the "woman breadwinner" award by Egypt's president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

Abu Dooah began dressing as a man in the 1970s, after her husband died when she was 21 years old and pregnant with her first child,  Al Arabiya reports.

Her conservative family did not consider it appropriate for her to have a job. "My brothers wanted me to get married again," she said. "All the time they kept bringing new grooms to me". But Abu Dooah resisted, insisting on earning money to support her family by herself.

In Egypt's conservative, patriarchal society, work opportunities for women were limited. So she shaved her head and wore the traditional "jilbab", a long loose-fitting robe with wide sleeves, a turban and masculine shoes.

"When a woman lets go of her femininity, it's hard," she said. "But I would do anything for my daughter. It was the only way to make money. What else could I do? I can't read or write, my family didn't send me to school, so this was the only way." 

She has held jobs in the building industry as well as agriculture, insisting she is as "as strong as ten men".

"I preferred working in hard labour 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 told The Guardian.

She says she enjoys working – and socialising – as a man, because she is treated with greater respect and avoids the sexual harassment that is endemic in many parts of Egypt.

Many people realised that she was a woman, but she was allowed to continue dressing as one with little resistance. "I never hid it," she said. "I wasn't trying to keep it a secret."

She is currently working in the city polishing shoes, which she says earns her a decent income. "She wakes up every day at 6am to start polishing shoes at the station in Luxor. I carry the work kits for her as she is now advanced in age," said her daughter Houda.

Abu Dooah insists she will continue dressing up as a man for the rest of her life. "I have decided to die in these clothes. I’ve got used to it. It’s my whole life and I can't leave it now."

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