Giving Up My Right to Be Me: Young Afghan Girls Pose As Boys to Gain Social Acceptance

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Imagine donning short hair and wearing clothes traditionally worn by a a female. How far could someone go to achieve their dream? How far would you go to achieve your dream?

The rise of women empowerment in Afghanistan is continuously overshadowed by the lack of equality for women. It may be due to an idealistic views placed on the society influence by the Taliban, or the people's unwillingness to adapt to modern views, that deters any hope for equality. Social Darwinism is still on the rise.
If you know much about Shakespeare, then you may be familiar his play Twelfth Night. Reminiscent to the story of Joan of Arc, it tells the tale of a young girl posing as boy (her twin brother who is assumed to be dead) in order to work as a page.

It may be an all to familiar story for the people of Afghanistan. Completely transforming their outer appearances, young girls in Afghanistan have posed as boys for centuries. They are referred to as bacha posh, or girls dressed as boys. It wasn't until recently that women who posed as boys as children have come forward to tell their stories. Whether it is for financial reasons or simply because society looks down upon them for not giving birth to a boy, these little girls must become boys for the benefit of their families. Anonymous or only called by a first name, these girls live and work as if they are boys.Below is an insert from an article by the New York Times about a young girl named Manoush who went by Mehran when she "became" a boy:

    "Together, they[her parents] spoke to their youngest daughter, she said. They made it an alluring proposition: “Do you want to look like a boy and dress like a boy, and do more fun things like boys do, like bicycling, soccer and cricket? And would you like to be like your father?” Mehran did not hesitate to say yes.

That afternoon, her father took her to the barbershop, where her hair was cut short. They continued to the bazaar, where she got new clothing. Her first outfit was “something like a cowboy dress,” Mrs. Rafaat said, meaning a pair of blue jeans and a red denim shirt with “superstar” printed on the back.

She even got a new name — originally called Manoush, her name was tweaked to the more boyish-sounding Mehran.

Mehran’s return to school — in a pair of pants and without her pigtails — went by without much reaction by her fellow students. She still napped in the afternoons with the girls, and changed into her sleepwear in a separate room from the boys. Some of her classmates still called her Manoush, while others called her Mehran. But she would always introduce herself as a boy to newcomers."--New York Times

What benefits do these girls receive as boys? Freedom. Freedom to go to school without threat from armed groups like the Taliban who oppose women's education. Freedom to walk around, play, work, and remained uncovered (girls/women have to wear burgas) because their society says that being a man is a blessing. With freedom comes with a major disadvantage: Losing her identity to acquire the same privileges as her male counterparts. Once she reaches adulthood, she will attempt to successfully re-enter society as a woman. Arranged marriages and motherhood is her role now. But the sudden change from male to female is hard for her to adapt to.

Now ponder this:

Hypothetically, what would the world be like if women weren't seen as the weaker sex? Could any country truly say that it treats its women and men as equals? Would even the United States be able to put all opinions aside to have equality between both genders. In the current state of politics, the answer would be no. You will find countless articles around the web declaring the "War on Women" in the United States. A woman's choice to abort her unborn child is now the decision of the government? Doesn't that make the U.S. just as guilty of denying a woman's individual rights as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, or Africa?

As I woman, I say yes. Even today, In our society women are seen as the homemakers who wear dresses, wear makeup, and love shoes. All while men are seen as the role models of our society, with higher pay, and given more responsibility. But men and women are capable or doing anything they want, wearing anything they want, to become successful in society. Too often, we can see how our society's view is sometimes twisted and unreasonable.

Do I need to cut my hair and pose as a man to get some equal rights around here? I shouldn't ever have to think that. So society is saying that if I were a male politician, I would have the right to tell other women how to live, what to wear, and label them the perpetrator whenever they are the victim? When is that ever fair? Who is allowed to decide my life for me? No one. I am in control of my own life. I can recall the days where I proudly stood in front of the flag to sing "My Country Tis of Thee" believing I was forever free from someone deciding my life or my life choices. I could vote since the age of 18. I knew I could make sure my voice was heard with every vote I casted. I would reach for the stars and back to be able to pursue any dream I have. Unlike the women of Afghanistan, I have the power to stand up for my rights as a human being. But I still feel as if my voice is being ignored."Sweet land of Liberty"?

We are all human beings. Got that world? I am a human being. Women are human beings. Just like men. And as a fellow human being, I hope to see more changes be made so that Afghani women can gain their equal rights as human beings.


Read all of my previous articles for Film Annex at my WebTv page.


Image 1: Source:  cordelia_persen

Image 2: Source


About the author


An independent music video director and freelance writer. I like to classify myself as an accidental blogger. Sometime near the end of my college days, Boredom and I had become very close companions, and I started having fun again. As for how I joined the film industry, it was just…

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