At first glance, everything seems ordinary. Sisa leaves for work at 6 am, wearing traditional men’s pants, ready to spend the day shining shoes or laying bricks. But most people in the neighborhood know that Sisa has a secret. Despite the men’s clothing and shaved head, she is actually a woman. She’s spent more than four decades posing as a man so that she could work alongside them.
Sisa was six months pregnant when her husband, the family’s sole breadwinner, fell ill and passed away. At this time, it was taboo and basically unheard of for Egyptian women to work. The few who did work often faced intense sexual harassment and discrimination. Instead, they were expected to remarry.
Sisa’s brothers constantly brought her new suitors. But she said that she’d “rather eat dirt” than find a new husband. So forty days after her husband’s death, she shaved her head, found men’s garments, and committed to living her life as a man. She’s lived this way for 43 years, and continues to do so today, saying she’ll die in men’s clothes.
Many of us might be thinking, how hard would it have been to live as a woman back then? What about today?
A 24-year-old male Egyptian actor, Waleed Hammad, wanted to know the same thing. What is it like to be a woman out in public in Cairo, Egypt? Is Egypt really facing an “epidemic of sexual harassment” like many activists claim?
He underwent four hours of make-up, plucked his eyebrows, shaved his arms, wore a wig and dressed as a woman before hitting the streets. He also wore a hidden camera to document his experience. What he recorded was shocking.
Within minutes of stepping onto the sidewalk, Waleed said he felt like he was under a microscope. Men stared at him, made sexual advances and offered him money for sex. Things took a dangerous turn when one man followed Waleed for more than 45 minutes, grabbing his arm, begging for his phone number, and insisting on taking him on a date.
Waleed admits that he was scared, and says he can’t imagine living his life like that every single day, like so many women around the world.
Sexual harassment isn’t an issue unique to Egypt. In another video from New York City, a woman recorded herself being harassed more than 100 times as she spent the day walking around the city.
In the US and Egypt, this kind of sexual harassment happens all too often. What about in your country?