A journalist’s fascinating study of the Afghan subculture of young girls raised to be boys.
In post-Taliban Afghanistan, men are still all-powerful. Women—even those who wield some political influence—live mostly in a state of servitude. Yet some girls manage to enjoy the privileges of being male by living as boys. Known as bacha posh, these young females are usually members of families in which the only children are girls. They “become” boys through family fiat and then live as males “as long as the lie will hold or as long as the community goes along with it,” which usually means until adolescence. To better understand this phenomenon, Nordberg not only researched the histories of bachas, but also interviewed and observed them throughout various life stages. She tells the story of Mehran, the young fourth daughter of a female politician who “needed” a son to reinforce her family’s “good standing and reputation” in the community, as well as her own in the Afghan parliament. With several years until adolescence, Mehran could live in the happy freedom denied her sisters. However, as Nordberg shows through the story of Zahra, puberty—and the return to the second-class citizenship of womanhood it implied—could be gut-wrenchingly traumatic. For Shukria, being a bacha posh rendered her unable to desire men and eventually made her undesirable to her husband, who divorced her. But for Nader, who managed to continue living as a man into adulthood, her third gender status inspired her to coach younger bachas looking to resist Afghan patriarchy and remain autonomous. As affecting as the stories of these women are, Nordberg’s conclusion—that women’s rights are essential to “building peaceful civilizations”—is the most powerful message of this compelling book.
An intelligent and timely exploration into contemporary Afghanistan.