A woman 'worth a dozen men': RT visits Egyptian pretending to be a man for decades to raise her family
Sisa Abau Dauh El-Nemr, now 65, has been living a man's life for over four decades. RT visited the woman who has been wearing men's clothes and working tough jobs, in her home town of Luxor in Egypt.
"I was 16 when I got married. My husband passed away when I was six months pregnant. After giving birth, I stayed with my mother in law for 40 days, and then I was told to remarry," Sisa told RT Documentary (RTD) team. Having decided that she wanted to take care of her daughter instead, she "started working, carrying bricks up and down," she added, saying that it was hard, but worth the effort.
"I've worked hard, but it's better than having a second husband. I'd rather eat dirt and feed stones to my daughter, than find myself another husband," Sisa told RTD.
Having come from a conservative Egyptian background, it wasn't considered appropriate for the woman to work in the 1970s. So Sisa disguised herself as a man to be able to find employment and raise her daughter. She needed men's clothes to try and have a source of income, she said.
"I made bricks, then I harvested crops. I've had many jobs," the woman who took on male identity told RTD. She said that eventually she took on the job of shining shoes in 1981, and has been doing it since. "Ever since my husband's death when I was pregnant, I've never taken anything from anyone. I was left alone against the world," she said.
"I made the bricks myself to build my house," she shared.
The Egyptian woman's fate hasn't gone unnoticed. After over four decades of living as a man, she was named "best mother" by officials in Luxor. To receive an award for being the city's most supportive mother, Sisa met Egypt’s president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. While being praised by the country's leader, she was still wearing her traditional male robe and turban.
"There are strict rules in Saudi Arabia. As for here ... women already wear pants. Each country has its own customs and traditions, and everyone has the right to wear what he wants. No one has the right to impose anything, life is about freedom," Sisa, who herself has decided to stick with her man's role, told RTD.
When Sisa became famous, she was taken to Cairo "to the department of radio and TV," she said. When asked if she had any wishes, she said she wanted a kiosk in Luxor. "So they gave me a license," she said.
She still needs to work a lot, Sisa said, adding that although she married her daughter off, she herself remained the same. Dressed in men's clothes and polishing shoes, Sisa earns the money she can for her daughter's family: five children and a very ill husband. "I feed them all," she said.
"My daughter is 43, but I've aged better than her. I look more solid and better overall," Sisa told RTD. She said she's always had her hair cut short herself and has never been to a hair salon. "I don't approve of women visiting hair salons, they are indecent. I curse such women, I don't like them," she said.
She agreed to a manicure and a face mask only after being told that modern men do it too. Sisa didn't enjoy the process. "They removed Mother Earth from under my nails," she said, surprised.
"Changing her personality is very hard for her, she doesn't want to be a woman," locals who have known Sisa for years told RTD. "I treat her like a man because she works like a man," one man said. "She's worth a dozen men," another one added.
"Some people used to try to bully me. But when they learned that I'm capable of any job, that I'm strong, they left me alone," Sisa said. One thing she preferred not to do alongside men was going to the mosque, she said: "I don't go to the mosque because I'm a woman, I avoid going there and I pray at home."
Except for that, "I wouldn't take off my (male) robe for all the money in the world... I've been wearing these clothes since my daughter was a baby. I'll leave if you try to make me wear a dress," she told RTD.