In Afghanistan, as in many third world countries, having a son is the ultimate measurement of success. A son means you’ve made it; a daughter is just another mouth to feed.
But some parents in Afghanistan have found a way to get around the pesky issue of having a daughter – by disguising them as sons. And the practice is not as uncommon as you would think. In a world where having only daughters, or worse, being barren, is license for ridicule and disdain, some parents decide to mask the identity of one or more of their daughters.
In the tradition known as Bacha Posh, girls are made to pretend to be boys in the way they dress, their actions, and even name. Bache Posh, which is usually about practiced as an appeal to God for a son, is sometimes also instituted so daughters can help earn money. Since girls and women are not allowed to walk freely on the street, some parents disguise girls as boys so that they can work in family-run businesses or sell things in the market.
Like something out of a movie, we may have a tendency to romanticize this bizarre tradition. That would be a mistake, according to Qazi Sayed Mohammad Sami, who says it is a breach of human rights to force a child to assume the gender identity of the opposite sex. Sami, head of the Balkh Human Rights Commission, says that this transition leaves a lasting and harmful affect on a girl’s sense of personal identity.
Not only that, but the practice only reinforces the idea that as girl, you just aren’t good enough. Perpetuating this practice, which dates back centuries to when it was most likely used to disguise women from invaders, only makes it more difficult for women to overcome gender prejudice in their society. As we practice in Anchal, women need to be taught that being who they are is good enough and being a woman is a wonderful thing. Only with more women believing this can we change and overcome the severe cultural gender divide in places like Afghanistan.