NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Faheema, who does not want to reveal her full name for fear of exposing her family to possible repercussions, is one of the many young Afghan girls who disguised herself as a boy. By wearing her hair cut short and dressing in pants, she lived for nine years as a boy in Afghanistan.
While in New York recently, Faheema, 24, reflected on what is considered a longstanding but little-documented practice in Afghanistan of "bacha posh," a Farsi expression that translates to mean "dress up as boys."
"I chose to live as a boy because as a girl you are restricted to be just around your house to talk only with other females but I wanted to talk with a lot of other people, to be able to move more freely," said Faheema, referring to her country’s often strict gender segregation and limited opportunities for women.
Investigative journalist Jenny Nordberg, who won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism for a television documentary on Afghan women in 2010, discovered this practice when she was in Afghanistan in 2009. In 2014, after five years of research and interviews with dozens of bacha posh, Nordberg wrote the book "The Underground Girls of Kabul."
"They [parents of a bacha posh] disguise a daughter as a son out of necessity; to raise the family’s status if they lack an actual son, to allow for more freedom of movement and a chance of an education for the girl, and sometimes so she can work and bring an income to the family," Nordberg told Women’s eNews in an email interview.
Said Faheema: "You walk outside your house, you walk to school and every man on the streets give themselves the right to say something about you."
In a recent official visit to the country, the United Nation rapporteur on violence against women called on the government of Afghanistan and the international community to adopt sustainable measures to address gender-based violence in the country.
"The fragile gains on women’s human rights in Afghanistan over the past 13 years are under threat, and some have even started to be rolled back," said Maya Pastakia, Amnesty International’s Afghanistan campaigner, in an email interview. "With the international troop withdrawal, the international community cannot forget about Afghanistan’s women, even if it might be convenient to do so."