A male child is a matter of pride and a status symbol. He carries the family name forward, but daughters are often considered a burden. Families without boys are subject to shame and disapproval so for parents with no male child cross-dressing is the only alternative. In centuries’ old tradition parents decide at birth to dress their girls as boys and cut their hair.
“Bacha Posh” as it is called, is a secret known only to immediate family members. The term means a girl dressed as a boy. In a society where men enjoy all benefits, Bacha Posh are girls who have the same freedom as boys: going to school, playing sports, being able to work and to support the family. In short, being able to do everything that women in Afghanistan are struggling with. Some belief disguising their daughters as sons will serve as a lucky charm which could lead to them having a male child in the future.
The Bacha Posh are considered men and treated like a man, they need to adapt the speech, the walk, and all the other aspects so they can be a man outside the home. Sitara Wafadar is one of many examples, she has camouflaged herself as a boy for more than a decade, forced by her parents to be the “son” they never had.
Sitara Wafadar with her father (R) | Photo credit: AFP
Sitara Wafadar started working at the factory when she was only eight (AFP)
When the girl hits puberty the curtains are drawn back on the Bacha Posh after years of living in disguise. Girls must get ready for the transition – from a boy to a girl. After they hit puberty they will start covering their head, soften her voice and prepare to marry. Some girls after they do the transition for from a boy to a girl, stopping to be a Bacha Posh, they find it difficult to adapt to gender-based restrictions. Some choose to remain Bacha Posh throughout their lives and others return to their natural gender frequently confused about their identity and living with a deep psychological scar.
Albanian Sworn Virgins
In the patriarchal northern Albanian society appeared the Albanian sworn virgins. They are women who take a vote of chastity and wear male clothing. The families without male offspring may select a female as the patriarch. Thus, the female becomes a male. These “Men-Women” are called Burneshas.
The term Albanian sworn virgins represent a woman that took a vote to live her life as a man. While women´s rights in the capital are increasing, in northern Albanian traditions still continue. Man maintain power, both politicly and socially. The only way a woman can have the rights of a man is to take a vote of celibacy and became a sworn virgin. Once you make the decision you should keep it for the rest of the life. They are openly accepted as men throughout the Albanian Society. For a woman to transform in sworn virgins they swear an irrevocable promise, in front of twelve village or tribal elders, to practice celibacy. After this, the women are allowed to live like a man and can start to use a male name, clothes, carry a gun, drink alcohol, smoke, work on a man job, act as the head of a household, so basically then they can start live and have the same rights as a man. Some women became a sworn virgin to satisfy her parents, but others do that to satisfy themselves and to have more rights.
In the past when women broke the vow the was punishable by death, but in the present that does not happen anymore. Now, the gap of rights between man and woman is smaller in Albania, especially in the central and southern regions. In contrast, the northern region is still more traditional. Now there are between forty and several hundred sworn virgins in Albania, and a few in the neighboring countries.
If we look for these two cases we can conclude that even today, especially in the Afghanistan case, there is so many differences regardless the rights of man and woman. This is two examples of how extreme the traditions and the social division between man and woman can be even today.
Jill Peters Pictures
By Eduardo Pereira