Sisa Abu Daooh was about 21 years old and six months pregnant when her husband died in the 1970s.
She was living in Egypt, which meant the young woman would have to marry a suitor in order to have food and shelter for her family. Her brothers brought potential husbands to her but she declined.
She did what she had to do to support her daughter: She dressed as a man and went to work as a laborer, much to her family's dismay.
That was some 43 years ago, when laws in Egypt frowned on women working or being educated.
Now, however, Abu Daooh is seen by her hometown of Luxor as that city's most supportive mother. This week, news reports told how Egypt's President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi had presented Abu Daooh with an award akin to "Mother of the Year," and about $6,500.
Abu Daooh said she had donned loose-fitting men's robes and pants, and started out making bricks and harvesting wheat. And she was very good at it.
"When a woman lets go of her femininity, it's hard," she said. "But I would do anything for my daughter. It was the only way to make money. What else could I do? I can't read or write — my family didn't send me to school — so this was the only way."
As she grew older and her strength lessened, she began to shine shoes. Her hometown recently honored her by giving her a kiosk for that endeavor.
People in her city knew what she was doing, but she would seek work outside the city's limits. Her new identity allowed her to socialize with men and carry on conversations most women in Egypt missed out on.
Her daughter, Houda, is now married with a family, but her husband's health doesn't allow him to work. So, Abu Daooh still works, still dresses as a man, to support her daughter and her family.
While I applaud Abu Daooh's determination to make her own living in Egypt without depending on a man for support, I can't help but shake my head over the numerous roadblocks males have devised to deny a woman's independence even in the United States.
While women are free to work in this country, sometimes our roadblock is that our jobs aren't always waiting for us when we return after we give birth. Too often, mothers are forced to return after just six weeks of maternity leave in order to keep their jobs.
Men don't have that problem.
It seems to me, if women are the only gender that can continue the line of inheritance, having a liberal maternity leave would say society honors that special gift.
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of companies that do that.
But there is one.
Vodafone, a telecommunications company which has 30 companies across the world, announced that by the end of this year all of its companies would offer at least 16 weeks of paid maternity leave. At least four whole months of leave.
But it gets better.
According to the Washington Post, after the new mother returns to Vodafone, she can work part-time and still get full pay. Vodafone realized that 65 percent of the women who left after giving birth did so in that first year, and they just didn't like losing all that talent.
One roadblock knocked down.
However, others exist.
In the 1970s, when Abu Daooh was changing into men's clothing, women in the U.S., for the most part, worked as secretaries, nurses, school teachers and clerks. Some 40 years later, the leading occupations for women are secretaries, nurses, dental assistants, cashiers and teachers.
Not much change there.
Women make up more than 50 percent of the population, but only 14.6 percent of executive officers and 8 percent of the highest wage earners, according to the Center for American Progress.
And the World's Economic Forum's 2013 Gender Gap Index of 136 countries said the U.S. ranks sixth. And yet women have outnumbered men on college campuses since 1988.
Aren't we the greatest country on Earth? Don't we believe in freedom for all? Why are women lagging behind, then? Do we have to dress in men's clothing in order to be treated equally?
While Abu Daooh had to pretend to be a man in order to support her family, female breadwinners in the U.S. can support their families openly but are not paid or supported equally.
Add race and culture to that gender inequity mix and some of us should start shopping for suits, ties and a pair of wingtips.