Afghanistan has a very traditional patriarchal culture, which does not allow women to be free like men. This means that the rights of women are restricted. Women are expected to stay at home and take care of the children. Young girls have little access to education, and getting a job is frowned upon and sometimes even punished.
It’s a society that says that women who play sports are a disgrace, and leaving the house without a male relative by her side can get a woman into serious trouble. Women still often need male permission or supervision just to engage in regular mundane activities.
This is the reason why, in certain families where men are in short supply, parents sometimes appoint one of their daughters to act like a boy. The practice is common and it’s called bacha posh, which literally means “dressed up as a boy.” Girls who are playing this role wear boys’ clothes, wear their hair very short and answer to a boy’s name while on the street. They get the freedoms that men in Afghan society enjoy, but it’s at a high price: their true identity.
As they grow up, however, most easily revert to behaving like women again. This means that they get married and are then forced to comply with the numerous restrictions that Afghan women face.
One father explains that he has seven daughters and no son, and so his ten-year-old daughter, Amena, was chosen to become a boy so she could help out the family. In Afghan society it’s a matter of shame and stigma when a man has only had daughters. Amena had no choice, really, so she sells water and collects plastic bottles to earn some money. She will have to remain a boy until her younger sister is old enough to take her place.
Every Afghan woman must have a man beside her. If there is no husband, a son will do. One woman whose husband left, dresses her two little girls aged 8 and 9 like boys so they can go outside and play instead of staying home locked up all the time. The mother isn’t interested in turning them back into girls and the girls say they feel like boys. The mother says they can stay boys for as long as they want to.
One girl decided on her own to start dressing like a boy because she enjoyed the freedom male clothing gave her and because she loves sports. At school she faces a lot of problems with teachers and other female students who can’t understand her decision.
Another young woman dresses as a boy and works as a coach at the country’s only Taekwondo School for girls. She refuses to stop wearing male clothes and get married because she wants freedom. This measure might seem extreme to outsiders, but like they say, desperate times call for desperate measures.