Some time ago, when I was searching for interesting documentaries in Russian, I came across one that was shocking and that made me go to sleep happier than usual for having been lucky to have been born in Europe and not Afghanistan or Pakistan. The documentary was called “Bacha Posh” and reported about a widespread practice in the two countries and that dates back from a century ago but that could have its roots in even older times. It is about the habit of some families, where no male child has been born, to pick up a girl in the family, cut her hair short, dress her as a boy and bring her up accordingly. This practice must have originated in war times, when women were left without men in their houses and they had to disguise as men in order not to be in danger when trying to provide for themselves.
It is for a Pakistani or Afghanistan family a great dishonour not to have a son and therefore, very often both parents agree to have a “Bacha Posh” at home, so that she can enjoy the privileges of a boy. And if the mother is a widow the “Bacha Posh” can go shopping and benefit from education. If there are no sons in the family having a “Bacha Posh” avoids the stigma that entails not having male offspring, necessary to preserve the name of the family and to have him as a heir of the properties.
The term “Bacha Posh” comes from the Parsi, the Persian language, and it means literally “dressed as a boy”. For the little girls chosen to be “Bacha Posh” childhood is fool of freedom: they can go to school, ride a bike, practice sport, walk alone down the street and to sum up, do all activities that boys can do. But they spend the day surrounded by lads and their personality becomes a bit masculine. I don’t mean that this is bad. I have never thought that playing with dolls and learning how to cook are essential to feel fulfilled as a woman. By far not. However, one has to consider that having a male taste for activities in Europe is not as problematic as it is in Pakistan or Afghanistan if you are a woman. It won’t be too much of a problem here if a woman can’t cook or sew. But in those countries, it will. And the problem is that the “Bacha Posh” are only such until they enter adolescence and they can marry. After years of freedom in which they have been able to taste the independence of walking down the street on their own or going for a coffee or a coke with their friends, all of a sudden, they have to be “girly girls” again. This is so because they have to get married, of course. But many have seen men’s world from inside and are afraid of gender violence. Even more so because they have lost years of acquisition of skills for the domestic tasks that any husband in those countries is going to expect them to be able to carry out perfectly.
The documentary in Russian showed the experience of different “Basha Posh”. One of them, the youngest one, a seven-year-old girl, was suffering a lot. She wanted to dress as a girl and be with the other girls at traditional parties. The other two where old enough. One of them didn’t want to come back to “woman’s life” because she was fully enjoying all privileges men have. During the day she worked as a secretary- I guess in a big city there will be more women working than in rural areas- and when she finished, she went to a school to practice Martial Arts and then to a night school to keep on learning as a man. A double life with an identity that is also split in two.
Despite the benefits that this deceit might bring to the families there is something that should be considered: the possible psychological damage caused to the “Bacha Posh”. How can one let a girl live in total freedom to make her come back to the submission of a sexist world afterwards? How can families wipe out the freedom of those girls to decide if they want to live as girls or as boys? To which extend gender is only a biological feature and not educational? Why do people say that “Bacha Posh” girls are masculine when they come back to their “girly” lives? Or is it that women who play football, are competitive and want to walk in the streets on their own are only half-men?
This accepted tradition of making “boys” out of “girls” in those two countries is rather shocking and should make us reflect upon the reason why in so many countries in the world giving birth to a baby girl is still a curse. It took the Homo Sapiens 100,000 million of years to get from Africa to every single corner of the world. How come that humans have not yet evolved to stop considering women as less valuable than men. What makes us evolve so slowly?
This is food for thought. Let’s see if we all find out a solution to the problem…