Solo Mom Sisa Abauu Dauh El-Nemr, who lives in Luxor, Egypt, has been living as a man for more than four decades now. She’s worn men’s clothing and taken on rough jobs. She did it to take care of her daughter—her way.
“I was 16 when I got married,” Sisa told the RT Documentary (RTD) team in 2015. “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.” But Sisa had other ideas. She started working at physically demanding jobs, lifting bricks and bags of cement, harvesting crops, and polishing shoes. “I’ve had many jobs,” she says.
But it was the 1970s, and according to her conservative Egyptian background, it was inappropriate for a woman to work. So the Solo Mom disguised herself as a man, dressing in men’s robes so that she could find employment and raise her child. “If I hadn’t, no one would have let me work,” she says. “I decided to be a man . . . and dressed in their clothes and worked alongside them in other villages where no one knows me.” Remaining independent has been important to her. “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 says. “Ever since my husband’s death when I was pregnant, I’ve never taken anything from anyone.”
It wasn’t always easy. Some suspected she was a woman posing as a man. “Some people used to try to bully me,” Sisa told RTD. “But when they learned that I’m capable of any job, that I’m strong, they left me alone.” In 2015, her strength was recognized by officials in Luxor, who named her “best mother.” If sudden fame has led to new opportunities, including meeting Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Sisa herself remains unchanged: at the meeting, she wore her traditional male robe and turban. “I wouldn’t take off my [male] robe for all the money in the world,” Sisa told RTD. “I’ve been wearing these clothes since my daughter was a baby.”
And despite fame, Sisa continues to work hard. At a meeting in Cairo, at the department of radio and TV, Sisa was asked if she had any wishes. When she wished for a kiosk in Luxor, “they gave me a license,” she says. She sells convenience items there, earning what money she can for her daughter’s family, which includes five children and, as of 2015, an ill husband.
Does she feel that she’s suffered without a husband herself? “Not really,” Sisa says. “May he rest in peace. I mean, our daughter is already 43 years old now.”
RTD’s The Untamed Shrew, tells her story.
Thumbnail credit: Screen grab from The Untamed Shrew: Masquerading as a man for over 40 years just to earn a living
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