Afghanistan, a country where most power and dominance is inhabited by men, is ranked one of the worst countries in the world to be born a female. Afghan women who bear only female children are scorned and looked down upon. To combat this inherent female disprivilege, women have started raising their female children as boys. Yes, as boys.
The young girls forced to pose as boys in Afghan society are known as the “bacha posh.” This is not a new practice in Afghanistan, it has been going on since ancient times. It is not well documented, however, because the real gender identity of these girls is kept secret, generally until they are in their teens, their marriageable years. When the girls are old enough to be arranged to marry a man, then they are forced to quickly transition into a life lived as a woman, contrary to the gender performances they have upheld for years.
This forced transition into womanhood, after years of identifying as a boy, is often difficult for the bacha posh. They do not realize that women have much more conservative expectations than men. Women are expected to speak only when spoken to, to stay in the home and cook and clean, to cover every part of their bodies in public. When girls, raised as boys, are then expected to immediately become women and marry, several resist and insist that women can accomplish things equivalent to the work of men, because they themselves have done so for years.
There are a couple different ways to look at the existence of the bacha posh. It can be seen as evidence of the fluidity of gender. The young girls are easily raised as boys, suggesting that biological sex and gender expression are not such concrete ideas. The other way to look at this, though, is to recognize the dangers of such an oppressive society. A society that is so demeaning to women, so discriminatory and exclusive of a group of people, that they have to compromise the identities of citizens to allow them equal rights, even if just for a phase of their life. This is an unsettling thing, the bacha posh. It is a way to push back against such a rigid gendered system of segregation, but also a horrific way to force women to justify their existence in the world.