Friday 20 October 2017

Bacha Posh: Gender-bending girls in Afghanistan

"They say your life becomes complete only if you have a son."
Azita Rafhat

"Whoever came [to our house] would say: 'Oh, we're sorry for you not having a son.' So we thought it would be a good idea to disguise our daughter, as she wanted this too." Azita Rafhat
For both social and economic reasons, many girls aged between five and twelve are disguised as boys and, for instance, sent to the market to sell water or chewing gum. Having a Bacha Posh is a matter of honour or reputation for some families since families without sons are pitied. It is also a means of economic survival as daughter turned into a son is sent to work and can add to the family income. In some cases, the girls decide to become Bacha Posh because living a boy's life can be an empowering experience in Afghanistan.
These girls are dressed as boys and get a male name they use when they are outside of the home. They are brought up as boys until they are about 17 or 18. At that age they are supposed to switch back to the traditional Afghan female role model. This change is not always an easy one. Disguised daughters can attend better schools and play sports, they have more freedom, freedom they lose the moment they turn into females (via and via).
"People use bad words for girls. They scream at them on the streets. When I see that, I don’t want to be a girl. When I am a boy, they don’t speak to me like that." a 15-year-old girl

"When I was a kid my parents disguised me as a boy because I didn't have a brother. Until very recently, as a boy, I would go out, play with other boys and have more freedom." Elaha
Elaha, for instance, lived as a boy for 20 years and reverted shortly before going to university. She does not "feel fully female" as her habits are not "girlish" - as a boy she used to go out, play with boys and have more freedom. She does not want to get married (via).
"If my parents force me to get married, I will compensate for the sorrows of Afghan women and beat my husband so badly that he will take me to court every day." Elaha

"I experienced both the world of men and of women and it helped me to be more ambitious in my career."
Azita Rafhat

"The tradition has had a damaging effect on some girls who feel they have missed out on essential childhood memories as well as losing their identity.
For others it has been good experiencing freedoms they would never have had if they had lived as girls.
But for many the key question is: will there be a day when Afghan girls get as much freedom and respect as boys?" BBC

::: She is My Son: WATCH

Photographs of Tamana Airways, 11, a Bacha Posh who every day after school dresses as a boy and sells biscuits, candles and drinks in Kabul's streets (via).

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photographs by Casper Hedberg via and via and via and via and via, copyright by owner