The life of girls who dress and act like boys for the benefit of their families is detailed in this well researched book. Most of the girls – called Bacha Posh – are turned into boys because the families do not have sons. Not having a son is an embarrassment to the family and a failure of a wife. Because girls are kept inside the home and kept completely separate from the outside world, a family with no sons has no one to chaperone the women/girls of the family, no one to shop or run errands and no one to uphold the family’s honor. Most bacha posh turn back into girls shortly before reaching puberty, marry and have children. But some find the return to being female in a strictly regulated, patriarchal society almost impossible to endure.
The family stories are compelling reading, especially that of Azita (herself once bacha posh) who is one of the few female parliamentarians in Afghanistan. Azita is educated and had expected to become a professional before the Taliban and then the mullahs decreed a return to veiled and hidden women. Married into a village family with an illiterate husband, the transition is difficult and only bearable when she is chosen to be a Member of Parliament in the reformed Afghanistan. With 4 girls and no boys, Azita makes the decision to “save face” by turning her youngest daughter into a son. With the resurgence of strict Muslim adherence, her life and the life of her bacha posh daughter, again becomes constrained.
The final chapters of the book detail the psychological and legal repercussions of bacha posh as well as the world wide incidents of daughters being made into boys in patriarchal societies and times. These chapters drag a bit in an otherwise engrossing book.
4 of 5 stars