Traditions 23 September 2016 11 1058
In patriarchal Afghanistan, women’s rights are severely restricted. Female family members are expected to stay at home and take care of the children. They have little access to education, and are discouraged from getting a job. It’s a society that condemns women who play sports, and even leaving the house without a male relative by her side can land a woman in hot water. To take part in some of the most mundane activities, women still often need permission from a male or to be supervised. This is why, in families where men are in short supply, parents sometimes appoint one of their daughters to play the male role.
The practice is called Bacha Posh, which literally means “dressed up as a boy”. Girls in this role wear boys’ clothes, have close-cropped hair and answer to a boy’s name in the street. They get the freedoms that men in Afghan society enjoy at the price of their true identity. As they grow up, however, most go back to behaving like women again: they get married and must comply with the traditional restrictions women face.
For girls who have tasted freedom while posing as boys, it is particularly difficult to readjust to the behaviour expected of Afghan women. For this reason, some girls decide against going back to following female rules, preferring to remain Bacha Posh instead. RT Doc met some of the Bacha Posh of Afghanistan, and they all had very different stories to tell. Amena’s parents decided that she would be the boy in the family. She doesn’t enjoy her status but has to help her father with his work. Fazilya has been raised as a boy since birth and knows no different, while Asiya consciously chose the male role to gain more freedom. To hear more of the stories Afghanistan’s pretend boys have to tell, watch the full documentary.