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Afghan parents want to have a son for economic and social reasons. Some people believe that if they disguise their daughter as a boy, it will bring them good luck and that God will give them a son. Bacha Posh is the tradition of disguising girls as boys.
Azita Rafhat used to be a member of the Afghan parliament. She has four daughters, but she does not dress the youngest like the others. Instead, she dresses her in a suit and tie. When they go outside, Mehrnoush is not a girl but a boy called Mehran.
Rafhat told the press: ‘When you have a good position in Afghanistan and are well off, people look at you differently. They say your life becomes complete only if you have a son.’ She said her mother-in-law cried when her children were born because they were not boys. She added: ‘When you don’t have a son in Afghanistan, it’s like something missing in your life. Like you lost the most important point of your life. Everybody feels sad for you.’
She and her husband spoke to their youngest daughter. They said: ‘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 said yes.
Mehran is currently living as a boy, but when she turns 17 or 18, she will live as a girl once again. But it will not be easy to make the change. Men and women have very different roles in Afghan society. Women have very little freedom.
Elaha lived as a boy for 20 years. Her family did not have a son. She told the press that she does not want to get married, and does not feel like a woman. ‘When I was a kid my parents disguised me as a boy because I didn’t have a brother. Until very recently, as a boy, I would go out, play with other boys and have more freedom.’ She added: ‘If my parents force me to get married, I will compensate for the sorrows of Afghan women and beat my husband so badly that he will take me to court every day.’
However, for some women, a childhood spent as a boy gave them the confidence to face the world and lead successful lives. Fariba Majoid, the head of the Women’s Rights Department in Balkh, was raised as a boy. ‘I was the third daughter in my family and when I was born my parents decided to disguise me as a boy,’ she told the press. ‘I would work with my father at his shop and even go to Kabul to bring goods from there.’ Majoid believes that the experience helped her to gain in confidence.
Rafhat herself used to live as a boy. She said that experiencing the world of men and of women helped her to become more ambitious in her career.
However, Qazi Sayed Mohammad Sami, head of the Balkh Human Rights Commission, says it is a breach of human rights. ‘We cannot change someone’s gender for a while. You cannot change a girl to a boy for a short period of time. It’s against humanity,’ he told the press. Some girls feel they have lost their identity, and have been damaged by the experience. Others say they had more freedom than they would have had if they had lived as girls.
Hopefully one day, girls and boys will be valued equally, and women and men will have the same opportunities. There will be no need to pretend.
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