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Women of Egypt: The valet

Earning daily bread has never been easy, especially for a woman entering male-dominated fields of work in a society that cannot easily change its perception of what are "women’s" jobs.

“'What are you doing?!' is always the expression I read on people’s faces,” says Um Nashwa, who works as a Saysa (street valet) in Mohamed Mahmoud Street in front of American University in Cairo [AUC]'s old campus located in Downtown.

However, this initial impression does not last long, as those who deal with Um Nashwa find her cautious when driving and parking their cars. Um Nashwa adds that she rarely encounters verbal abuse from men in the streets because her respectful manner forces men to behave in the same way in return.

A mother of four girls, Nashwa has worked with her husband Sabry in this area since 1994 to help him raise their daughters after he began suffering from rheumatism.

Um Nashwa expresses pride in her efforts: “I was able to provide my daughters good living conditions and pay for the expenses of their education.” Nevertheless, her main source of livelihood has been affected considerably after the AUC’s main campus moved from Cairo’s Downtown to New Cairo on the city’s outskirts.

“My income has dropped to nearly half what I used to earn daily,” she says. “The street used to be packed with cars of university students who gave generous tips.”

AUC’s relocation is not the only reason she suffers financially. “This street was emptied of cars during the days of  therevolution,” she says, gesturing to both sides of the street. “Those were black days. I used to stand here for hours doing nothing because people were afraid that leaving their cars was unsafe.”    

Um Nashwa, however, categorically supports the revolution and says that it is the best thing that ever happened to Egypt. “I’m ready to starve in order not to return back to Mubarak’s era.”

Asked about the reason for her stance against the old regime, she is silent for a few seconds, before turning her face away with tear-filled eyes. “Oppression,” she says.

Um Nashwa holds a diploma in commerce and was employed as a daily wage worker for nine years in a construction company. But she was forced to resign her job due to deteriorating financial circumstances. “I chose to take to the streets as my daily wage wasn’t enough to cover my family’s expenses through the ongoing increase in prices.”

She says the revolution is a remedy for a deep wound that never healed. “I will never be afraid again to defend my rights, even if I have to stand in front of a firing police officer,” Nashwa says.

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