In The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance, Jenny Nordberg explores the life of a bacha posh – otherwise known as a girl who is dressed as and raised as a boy. Afghan families who raise their young daughters as boys do so for a number of reasons; some feel societal shame if they have not yet given birth to a boy, whereas others believe that a bacha posh is almost magic, allowing them to give birth to sons in the future. And others turn a daughter into a son for practical reasons, such as needing a male to escort them in public. When a bacha posh reaches puberty, she “becomes a girl” again, and simultaneously loses her male privileges, such as being able to make direct eye contact with men.
The book was very educational, but also quite sad. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like to be raised as a boy until puberty, and then to suddenly be acknowledged as a girl. Furthermore, in an extremely patriarchal society, becoming a girl again would mean a staggering loss of freedom. It is initially hard to comprehend why families would decide to raise a bacha posh, but the book deeply explores why they choose this path. For those interested in books about gender roles, The Underground Girls of Kabul is an excellent read, and can be found here on Amazon.