Bacha Posh: The Gender Twisting Custom In Afghanistan
The damage that Patriarchy has been doing is not limited to one case or to one place either. It’s everywhere and it’s systematic. Ever thought how it would feel to have borrowed feelings? There are girls going through these feelings every second of their lives. The complicated, borrowed feelings which are not theirs and don’t identify with who they really are. These are girls who practice Bacha Posh and this is how they live.
Bacha Posh (or Bacha Poshi as some call it) is a social and cultural practice in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as per which families without sons pick a daughter who disguises and lives as a boy. In the local Dari language, the term “Bacha Posh” means a “girl dressed like a boy”. Families reassign the daughter’s gender at birth in this practice. This enables the child to behave more freely, wherein one can attend school, escort her sisters in public, and work outside the homes. Also, it assists her in carrying out the duties of a son without getting harassed. The practice significantly allows the family to avoid the social stigma associated with not having any male children.
Social standing and acceptance
In Afghanistan’s patriarchal society, economic dependency on men and social stigma drives families to resort to Bacha Posh. There’s even a rumour which they live with, that a bacha posh daughter will lead to a son in the next pregnancy.
Najia Nasim, the Afghanistan country director for U.S.-based Women for Afghan Women says, “When one gender is so important and the other is unwanted, there will always be those who try to pass over to the other side.”
Bacha posh girls are “allowed” to roam outside alone, for shopping, to look for a job and work, play a sport or play any other role as that of a boy in society. Parents without sons prefer to convert one of their daughters seeking social acceptance. Bacha Posh is a struggle for a little freedom of girls in a highly patriarchal society.
However, some girls choose to pose as boys so they can enjoy the freedom like their male counterparts.
Leads to an even harder life
When a bacha posh attains the marriageable age she usually switches back to the life of a girl. However, in rare cases it can occur even later. Baryalai Fetrat, Kabul University’s sociology professor told AFP that Bacha poshi is practised in particularly conservative areas of Afghanistan. The professor said that later these girls find it hard to go back to their normal self or act as a submissive wife to their husbands, leading to depression and domestic violence.
later these girls find it hard to go back to their normal self or act as a submissive wife to their husbands, leading to depression and domestic violence.
Gradually, when these girls get older and puberty discloses their biological gender, life becomes even more difficult. They have to then take measures to avoid harassment. On the street, or other public places, people yell and call them names, even referring to them as transsexual people.
The life of Sitara Wafadar: A prominent example of Bacha Posh
An 18-year-old Sitara Wafadar in Afghanistan has disguised herself as a boy for more than a decade now, as per reports by AFP. She was compelled by her parents to be the “son” they wanted but never had. The girl is one of the six daughters in the family.
Sitara belongs to an impoverished family of Nangarhar. Every day she wears her baggy shirt and trousers and flip flops typically worn by Afghan males. At times, she covers her short brown hair with a scarf and deepens her voice to hide her real gender. She and her elderly father work in the brick factory as bonded labourers to repay 25,000 Afghani money they borrowed from the owner to cover the medical expenses of Sitara’s diabetic mother.
“When I put on boy’s clothes I wish I had a brother, then my dreams would have been fulfilled.”
Despite hitting puberty, Sitara believes that if she continues to disguise herself and work hard, her younger sister will not have to face the same situation as her. She wonders what would it feel to have long hair, to dress up as a girl and to go to school.
Throughout history, women have disguised themselves as men to navigate entrenched social roles. They have dressed as men to succeed professionally, take up religious paths and even fight wars. There still are corners in the world where a large number of girls are silently living up to the baseless patriarchal norms that this society still thrives upon. There is no rescue. Not at least till the regressive mindset continues to eat the society. About time, these conditions change and we collectively move forward progressively.
Featured image credit: AFP
Bhawana is an intern with SheThePeople.Tv