I've heard of people in oppressive, war-torn nations disguising their daughters as sons for safety & protection, but I was not aware the practice was done for social status reasons and was considered acceptable to boot.
When Azita Rafhat, a former member of the Afghan parliament, gets her daughters ready for school, she dresses one of the girls differently.
Three of her daughters are clothed in white garments and their heads covered with white scarves, but a fourth girl, Mehrnoush, is dressed in a suit and tie. When they get outside, Mehrnoush is no longer a girl but a boy named Mehran.
Azita Rafhat didn't have a son, and to fill the gap and avoid people's taunts for not having a son, she opted for this radical decision. It was very simple, thanks to a haircut and some boyish clothes.
There is even a name for this tradition in Afghanistan - Bacha Posh, or disguising girls as boys.
"When you have a good position in Afghanistan and are well off, people look at you differently. They say your life becomes complete only if you have a son," she says.Many girls disguised as boys can be found in Afghan markets. Some families disguise their daughters as boys so that they can easily work on the streets to feed their families.
Some of these girls who introduce themselves as boys sell things like water and chewing gum. They appear to be aged anywhere between about five and 12. None of them would talk to me about their lives as boys.
Girls brought up as boys do not stay like this all their lives. When they turn 17 or 18 they live life as a girl once again - but the change is not so simple.He says those families who do not have a son disguise their daughters as boys for good luck so that God gives them a son.
Mothers who do not have sons come to the shrine of Hazrat-e Ali and ask him to grant them sons, he adds.
Atiqullah Ansari says that according to Islam the girls who live as boys must cover their heads when they come of age.
In Afghanistan, stories like this have become more common. Almost everyone has relatives or neighbours who have tried this.Wiki linkThe tradition has had a damaging effect on some girls who feel they have missed out on essential childhood memories as well as losing their identity.
For others it has been good experiencing freedoms they would never have had if they had lived as girls.
I find that last claim to be suspect, but maybe I'm just prejudiced because the practice seems abhorrent to me. One mother interviewed claimed her young daughter "wanted to do it for the family." I find that highly unlikely.
I'd also like to know specifically what damaging effects were noted in girls that grew up to resent the practice and how the information was gathered. It seems like accuracy and data are not things easy to come by in remoter parts of Afghanistan. Are there studies on this sort of thing? I would think so, but probably under different circumstances in other parts of the world.
I remember reading an article not too long ago about a couple in the U.S. that raised their child unisexually and didn't declare the birth sex until after the child was well into grade school and chose to identify with a gender. I'm not sure that this is really comparable though as that was simply a lack of gender direction whereas this was clearly gender misdirection.
I'm sad that for so many females in the world, it is socially undesirable to have been born at all. Your thoughts.