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Unprotected women breadwinners beating tough circumstances


CAIRO – 15 August 2019: “The difficulty that I meet every day is to convince the owners of agricultural lands surrounding our village to sell their crops to me instead of other traders who increase the price to deprive me of the small amount I take to provide for myself and my family,” Su’ad, a woman breadwinner said.

Egypt Today has met with a number of female breadwinners nationwide who were forced to work in hard circumstances to earn a living.

Suad is from Belbes in Sharkia governorate. She lives in a muddy house with her four children after being abandoned by her husband several years ago and being consequently left without income, she told Egypt Today.

Her day starts by taking her youngest child, 5, and placing her in the plastic basin (known in Arabic as tesht), where she puts the vegetables that she buys from the fields that are one-hour walk from her home.

Even in the days when I suffer from fatigue, I have to get up very early like a machine in order not to miss the pickup truck that I and some women farmers pile into, along with goods, for three hours to Cairo, she says.

Egypt Today has spotted some temporary or day rate female workers who come from different parts in Egypt, including Fayoum, Beni Suef, Giza and Beheira, and force themselves to work for over 18 hours, in competition with men, to earn a living.

Their day starts at 4 a.m.and ends at 12 a.m., when they return to rest to repeat the same tragedy the following day. They come out at dawn and walk for long distances in search for goods in the fields and markets, and struggle to grab a place in a pickup truck.

Egypt Today moved to a market in Giza and met with Om Rahma, a newly divorced mother from the village of Brenshet in the busy governorate. According to her, she had suffered during the past 7 years from domestic violence and had been forced to work to provide for her husband.

“I have been suffering throughout my marriage years. I had to work for long hours to provide for my husband, while he met everything I did with ingratitude, beat me and deprived me from my simplest rights including food,” Om Rahma said.

She said she had to get out of the village everyday with her baby to catch the vehicle that transports her to a market in Giza known as Souk al-Talat.

“I once broke my hand after falling off the vehicle that carried me and some women and goods, while [the vehicle] was passing through the Giza crossing,” she said, adding that her husband refused to pick her up from the police station where she stayed after the incident.”After three days, he was not ashamed to force me to return to work again,” she added.

“I pray God stands by me until I die,” Om Ahmed, 65, a widow and a mother of four children, said.Om Ahmed, who cannot move freely without help due to her illness and old age, still comes to the market “in order not for my children to need anything or borrow [money] from someone.”

“In my youth, I was able to move from my residence in one of the areas in Giza to Nasser city in Helwan to work in a clothing factory for long hours,” she said, adding that she left the job due to its very low salary (LE 300 – $19) and hard circumstances.

Om Ahmed said she turned to work and sell in the markets, and resided in Giza’s Agouza market to be able to buy medicine for her sick husband before he died.

“I decided to go down again to meet the needs of my two daughters and their children after the first one’s husband died, while the husband of the other is sick and executes some judicial rulings,” she said.

The same motive was cited by Om Essam, who also has been selling vegetables to meet the needs of her children amid hard life conditions.

Om Essam said she started working after the death of her husband, who left her no money or government pension.

I shop, carry vegetables on the pickup truck initially from Rod al-Farag and currently from Souk al-Obour, she said.

“Nothing comes free of problems but a strong woman is not affected by anyone. I deal with the good and the bad [persons].”She said that many men now stay at home and force their wives to spend money on them.

Describing how fragile is the room she stays in, Om Ahmed said that the rain comes down on them every winter, adding that her husband’s monthly salary is LE 90 ($5.4).

“Before selling vegetables, I had been working as a cook, but because of the surgery I underwent in my feet, and the other one I had in my stomach,I am no more able to stand on my feet, which forced me to look for an alternative.”

“I collect grapes, potatoes, tomatoes or garlic, and get them transported by a pickup truck, along with the rest of the women,” she said, adding that sometimes she fails to sell most of them and is threatened with imprisonment as she cannot pay traders and farmers back.

With eyes full of tears, Om Ahmed said she has been working from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. as she does not have a husband or a son to relieve her from this suffering.

“The day I buy vegetables, I have to get out of the room I live at 5 a.m.,” she said.

Egypt Today also listened to a mother of four males and three girls, who she looks after. She said that women workers, especially daily rate breadwinners, are usually harassed in the streets

“When I was young, I used to get up and prepare food for my children, then leave them or take them with me to the markets where I sold vegetables at the lowest prices,” Om Orabi said.

“Sometimes I had to go [out] on the day I gave birth,” she said.

Naeema, a 35-year-old daily rate worker, has worked in collecting vegetables from a field for little money. Like Om Rahma, Naeema was forced by her husband to work for long hours that she cannot bear.

“Although I am young, I suffer from [high] blood pressure, diabetes and anemia because of how my selfish husband treats me. He stays home while I go out to work.”

“After all my suffering, he got married [again] despite our difficult circumstances, and despite living in a house [made] of wicker, and when I faced him, he said [he married] so that the second wife would help me make a living.”

Muslim men are allowed to marry up to four wives in case they have a strong reason and can satisfy all their wives and treat them equally.

“I am ignorant and was married [when I was] a child and I have four children who have no one to provide for them. I do not have a job or a government pension that would support me and protect me from my husband’s violence,” said Naeema.

In Bulaq market, Om Taha, a mother of four sons, is forced to take several transportation means a day and is forced to wait for a long time with her goods.

“I struggle to earn a living and book a place in order for shop owners, who object to my work, to allow me to buy and sell,” she said.

She added that she was once beaten by a shop owner because other traders left the remains of their goods in front of his shop.

“I cried of the severe pain and humiliation I encountered while struggling to earn a living for my children, but I returned the following day and I endured it.”

Concerning the legal rights of such women, lawyer Reda al-Danbouqi, executive director of the Women’s Center for Legal Awareness and Guidance, said that the Labor Law omitted that category, making them a marginalized group, contrary to Article 11 of the Constitution, which emphasized protecting working women.

Danbouqi revealed that 80 percent of daily rate workers in rural areas are women and children.

The main reason why women are forced to do such work is to provide income for their families suffering from poverty and illness due to the loss of the family’s male breadwinner, either through divorce, death, imprisonment, marrying another woman or abandonment, Danbouqi said.

In the course of their work, they are injured, abused and sometimes harassed, he said, adding that many of them are exploited by their employers without any means to defend themselves.



Translated by Amr Mohamed Kandil
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