Labor of love

Meet the woman who disguised herself as a man for 43 years so she could provide for her daughter

“She’s worth a dozen men”

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Back in March, the Egyptian government honored Sisa Abauu Dauh El-Nemr, declaring her “the ideal mother.” And with good reason. Sisa has spent 43 years dressing as a man so that she could work and provide for her child.

Now, RT, the Russian English-language news agency, has tracked down Sisa in her hometown of Luxor and made her the subject of a documentary titled The Untamed Shrew. The nearly 50-minute production features interviews with people who recognized her as a shoe-shiner and suspected she was a woman posing as a man. And of course, Sisa appears on camera and discusses what led to her spending decades posing as a member of the opposite sex.

The documentary crew paid a visit to Sisa at her home, a modest brick and concrete hut in a working-class neighborhood of the city.

“I was 16 when I got married,” Sisa, now 65, told RT. “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. Remarry? And who’s going to take care of my daughter?”

Even today, gender equality is a concept that’s struggling to take hold in Egypt. Back in the 1970s, the idea of a woman working was taboo and basically unheard of, according to RT.

“I was left alone against the world,” Sisa recalled.

Instead of remarrying, Sisa said, she went to work out of a sense of duty to provide for her daughter. She took grueling manual labor jobs that she said were difficult, but worth doing. “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,” she said in the documentary.

When asked if she’s suffered without a husband, Sisa replied, “Not really. May he rest in peace. I mean, our daughter is already 43 years old now.”

“She’s become old by now! I’ve aged better than her!” Sisa quipped. “I look more solid and better overall.”

At various points in throughout the video, crew members ask men their thoughts on Sisa. Outside of her home, the documentary crew encountered some men on the street. When asked about Sisa, one man said, “She’s great! One-hundred percent!” while giving a thumbs up to the camera.

“She’s worth a dozen men,” remarked another.

These days, Sisa runs a small kiosk in Luxor selling convenience items. Watch the full video above and read RT’s complete story here.

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