A 64-year-old Egyptian woman was recently rewarded by the President of the country, for being “an exemplary working woman,” proven by her ability to work and be the sole provider for her family over the past 43 years. There’s just one twist to this story: every day that she worked, she did so disguised as a man.
Sisa Abu Daooh, whose husband passed away in the early 70s when she was pregnant with her daughter, knew she must take care of her family, and she quickly realized that it would be much easier for her to earn living wages if she presented as a man. So she wore traditional men’s robes, and she worked in a town where no one would recognize her.
There are two components of this story that deeply frustrate me. The first is that she was forced into this situation to begin with. It’s terrible that she lived (and still lives) in a society that is so opposed to women being a part of the workforce, that she would have been unable to provide for herself and her child without pretending to be someone she’s not. This is a very straightforward and overt example of cultural sexism in Egypt. Although the situation may be slightly better today than it was 40 years ago, there are still many regulations and practices in place to make earning an income challenging for women. Obviously, that’s a huge problem.
My second frustration stems from the fact that she was rewarded for doing this…and nothing else happened. Not that she doesn’t deserve recognition for supporting her family — she absolutely does! Being a single parent, and earning enough to support oneself and one’s child is certainly challenging, and anyone who successfully accomplishes this task deserves accolades. But rather than simply rewarding someone for making the best out of a terrible situation, perhaps we should take a look at how the culture must be changed. In all of the articles I read regarding Daooh’s story, not one referenced any policy changes that were proposed or even discussed. Seemingly, the President said, “Wow. Great job navigating a whole host of barriers. If you can do it, everyone else can too.” This is not enough.
How many stories like this do we need to read? How many times will women fight the system, challenge the patriarchy, find the loopholes, before all of that work — all of that deception — is no longer needed? I get it; she is an amazing woman and she beat the odds. She deserves her reward; and with that said, maybe more than $6,500 would have been nice. But, don’t all women deserve the opportunity to provide for their families? Shouldn’t all women be able to access living wages, without hiding the fact that they are — gasp — female?