Balkan sworn virgins
Balkan sworn virgins (Albanian: burrnesha or Albanian: virgjinesha) are women who take a vow of chastity and wear male clothing in order to live as men in the patriarchal northern Albanian society. To a lesser extent, the practice exists, or has existed, in other parts of the western Balkans, including Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Dalmatian hinterland (Croatia) and Bosnia. National Geographic's Taboo estimated that there are fewer than 102 sworn virgins in the world.
Other terms for the sworn virgin include vajzë e betuar (most common today, and used in situations in which the parents make the decision when the girl is a baby or child), mashkull (present-day, used around Shkodra), virgjineshë, virgjereshë, verginesa, virgjin, vergjinesha, Albanian virgin, avowed virgin, мушкобања (muškobanja), мушкара (muškara) (Serbian: man-woman or manlike), остајница (ostajnica) (Serbian: she who stays), tombelija, basa, harambasa (Montenegrin), tobelija (Bosnian: bound by a vow), zavjetovana djevojka (Croatian), sadik (Stahl, Turk Moslem: honest, just).
The tradition of sworn virgins developed out of the Kanuni i Lekë Dukagjinit (English: The Code of Lekë Dukagjini, or simply the Kanun), a set of codes and laws developed by Lekë Dukagjini and used mostly in northern Albania and Kosovo from the 15th century until the 20th century. The Kanun is not a religious document – many groups follow it, including Roman Catholics, the Albanian Orthodox, and Muslims.
The Kanun dictates that families must be patrilineal (meaning wealth is inherited through a family's men) and patrilocal (upon marriage, a woman moves into the household of her husband's family). Women are treated like property of the family. Under the Kanun women are stripped of many human rights. They cannot smoke, wear a watch, or vote in their local elections. They cannot buy land, and there are many jobs they are not permitted to hold. There are even establishments that they cannot enter.
The practice of sworn virginhood was first reported by missionaries, travelers, geographers and anthropologists who visited the mountains of northern Albania in the 19th and early 20th centuries.