Girls Dressed as Boys for Social Status

lead image

Under social pressure in Afghanistan to have a son, Mehran’s parents began dressing and treating her as a boy when she was 5-years-old.

Like many Afghan mums, Azita Rafaat dresses her 3 daughters for school in the morning. The two older girls, Benafsha and Beheshta put on black dresses and head scarves while Mehran, the youngest, wears green pants, a white shirt and a necktie. Mehran has spiky, short black hair. Mehran, a six-year-old girl, is made to dress like an Afghan boy.

Mehran, dressed as a boy, is the daughter of Azita Rafaat, right, a member of Parliament who also masqueraded as a boy when she was a child. Credit: Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

Under social pressure in Afghanistan to have a son, Mehran’s parents began dressing and treating her as a boy when she was five-years-old. There are no statistics about how many Afghan girls masquerade as boys. But when asked, Afghans of several generations can often tell a story of a female relative, friend, neighbour or co-worker who grew up disguised as a boy. To those who know, these children are referred to as neither “daughter” nor “son”, but as “bacha posh,” which means “dressed up as a boy”.

Afghan families have many reasons for pretending their girls are boys, including economic need, social pressure to have sons, and a superstition that doing so can lead to the birth of a real boy. Lacking a son, parents decide to cut the hair of a daughter and dress her in typical Afghan men’s clothing.

In the tribal culture, only a son can inherit the father’s wealth and pass down a name. Families without boys are the objects of contempt. A ‘bacha posh’ can also more easily receive an education, work outside the home, and even escort her sisters in public.

Azita Rafaat said:

“And I know it’s very hard for you to believe why one mother is doing these things to their youngest daughter. But I want to say for you, that some things are happening in Afghanistan that is really not imaginable.”

For most such girls, boyhood has an inevitable end. After being raised as a boy, they switch back once they hit puberty — when their bodies begin to change and they approach marrying age. Hitting puberty can be disorienting. A girl raised as a boy may be abruptly plunged into an arranged marriage once she gets her period. These girls will have to learn to be a woman again and adapt to wearing burqas and married life.

For Mehran, the Rafaats have not yet made a decision as to when she will be switched back to a girl, but Azita Rafaat said she hoped it need not happen for another five or six years.

Read more here.

Note: We think that in this day and age, a child’s gender should not have to be an issue when it comes to social status. Parenting style should be based on the core of accepting your child no matter which gender they belong to. It saddens us to find out that girls are still being treated this way. We wish Mehran all the best in her future.

Got a parenting concern? Read articles or ask away and get instant answers on our app. Download theAsianparent Community on iOS or Android now!

Written by

Miss Vanda