Gender in Afghanistan

I don’t have any particularly interesting commentary on this NYT piece about the tradition of families with only daughters in Afghanistan raising one as a boy, but I think it speaks for itself about the problematic gender attitudes in the country and is well worth your time to read.  The basics:

There are no statistics about how many Afghan girls masquerade as boys. But when asked, Afghans of several generations can often tell a story of a female relative, friend, neighbor or co-worker who grew up disguised as a boy. To those who know, these children are often referred to as neither “daughter” nor “son” in conversation, but as “bacha posh,” which literally means “dressed up as a boy” in Dari.

Through dozens of interviews conducted over several months, where many people wanted to remain anonymous or to use only first names for fear of exposing their families, it was possible to trace a practice that has remained mostly obscured to outsiders. Yet it cuts across class, education, ethnicity and geography, and has endured even through Afghanistan’s many wars and governments.

Afghan families have many reasons for pretending their girls are boys, including economic need, social pressure to have sons, and in some cases, a superstition that doing so can lead to the birth of a real boy. Lacking a son, the parents decide to make one up, usually by cutting the hair of a daughter and dressing her in typical Afghan men’s clothing. There are no specific legal or religious proscriptions against the practice. In most cases, a return to womanhood takes place when the child enters puberty. The parents almost always make that decision.

Okay, a little commentary, now that I’ve finished reading the article.  Sometimes, I feel the need to be really judgmental.  Any culture that encourages this type of behavior because women are so oppressed and devalued is hopelessly backward and dysfunctional.  I’ve got no acceptance for cultural relativism– the attitudes towards gender roles in Afghanistan are simply appalling and inhumane.  There, that felt good.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Gender in Afghanistan

  1. Sonia says:

    Wow, if that doesn’t cement GENDER = PERFORMANCE for anyone, I don’t know what will.

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