Afghan tradition allows girls to access the freedom of boys

Sanam — a bacha posh, a girl living as a boy, stands next to her father at their street stand selling masks, in Kabul. (AP)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Afghan tradition allows girls to access the freedom of boys

  • Under the practice, a girl dresses, behaves and is treated as a boy, with all the freedoms and obligations that entails
  • Once a bacha posh reaches puberty, she is expected to revert to traditional girls’ gender roles

KABUL, Afghanistan: In a Kabul neighborhood, a gaggle of boys kick a yellow ball around a dusty playground, their boisterous cries echoing off the surrounding apartment buildings.
Dressed in sweaters and jeans or the traditional Afghan male clothing of baggy pants and long shirt, none stand out as they jostle to score a goal. But unbeknown to them, one is different from the others.
At not quite 8 years old, Sanam is a bacha posh: a girl living as a boy. One day a few months ago, the girl with rosy cheeks and an impish smile had her dark hair cut short, donned boys’ clothes and took on a boy’s name, Omid. The move opened up a boy’s world: playing soccer and cricket with boys, wrestling with the neighborhood butcher’s son, working to help the family make ends meet.
In Afghanistan’s heavily patriarchal, male-dominated society, where women and girls are usually relegated to the home, bacha posh, Dari for “dressed as a boy,” is the one tradition allowing girls access to the freer male world.
Under the practice, a girl dresses, behaves and is treated as a boy, with all the freedoms and obligations that entails. The child can play sports, attend a madrassa, or religious school, and, sometimes crucially for the family, work. But there is a time limit: Once a bacha posh reaches puberty, she is expected to revert to traditional girls’ gender roles. The transition is not always easy.
It is unclear how the practice is viewed by Afghanistan’s new rulers, the Taliban, who seized power in mid-August and have made no public statements on the issue.
Their rule so far has been less draconian than the last time they were in power in the 1990s, but women’s freedoms have still been severely curtailed. Thousands of women have been barred from working, and girls beyond primary school age have not been able to return to public schools in most places.
With a crackdown on women’s rights, the bacha posh tradition could become even more attractive for some families. And as the practice is temporary, with the children eventually reverting to female roles, the Taliban might not deal with the issue at all, said Thomas Barfield, a professor of anthropology at Boston University who has written several books on Afghanistan.
“Because it’s inside the family and because it’s not a permanent status, the Taliban may stay out (of it),” Barfield said.
It is unclear where the practice originated or how old it is, and it is impossible to know how widespread it might be. A somewhat similar tradition exists in Albania, another deeply patriarchal society, although it is limited to adults. Under Albania’s “sworn virgin” tradition, a woman would take an oath of celibacy and declare herself a man, after which she could inherit property, work and sit on a village council — all of which would have been out of bounds for a woman.
In Afghanistan, the bacha posh tradition is “one of the most under-investigated” topics in terms of gender issues, said Barfield, who spent about two years in the 1970s living with an Afghan nomad family that included a bacha posh. “Precisely because the girls revert back to the female role, they marry, it kind of disappears.”
Girls chosen as bacha posh usually are the more boisterous, self-assured daughters. “The role fits so well that sometimes even outside the family, people are not aware that it exists,” he said.
“It’s almost so invisible that it’s one of the few gender issues that doesn’t show up as a political or social question,” Barfield noted.
The reasons parents might want a bacha posh vary. With sons traditionally valued more than daughters, the practice usually occurs in families without a boy. Some consider it a status symbol, and some believe it will bring good luck for the next child to be born a boy.
But for others, like Sanam’s family, the choice was one of necessity. Last year, with Afghanistan’s economy collapsing, construction work dried up. Sanam’s father, already suffering from a back injury, lost his job as a plumber. He turned to selling coronavirus masks on the streets, making the equivalent of $1-$2 per day. But he needed a helper.
The family has four daughters and one son, but their 11-year-old boy doesn’t have full use of his hands following an injury. So the parents said they decided to make Sanam a bacha posh.
“We had to do this because of poverty,” said Sanam’s mother, Fahima. “We don’t have a son to work for us, and her father doesn’t have anyone to help him. So I will consider her my son until she becomes a teenager.”
Still, Fahima refers to Sanam as “my daughter.” In their native Dari language, the pronouns are not an issue since one pronoun is used for “he” and “she.”
Sanam says she prefers living as a boy.
“It’s better to be a boy ... I wear (Afghan male clothes), jeans and jackets, and go with my father and work,” she said. She likes playing in the park with her brother’s friends and playing cricket and soccer.
Once she grows up, Sanam said, she wants to be either a doctor, a commander or a soldier, or work with her father. And she’ll go back to being a girl.
“When I grow up, I will let my hair grow and will wear girl’s clothes,” she said.
The transition isn’t always easy.
“When I put on girls’ clothes, I thought I was in prison,” said Najieh, who grew up as a bacha posh, although she would attend school as a girl. One of seven sisters, her boy’s name was Assadollah.
Now 34, married and with four children of her own, she weeps for the freedom of the male world she has lost.
“In Afghanistan, boys are more valuable,” she said. “There is no oppression for them, and no limits. But being a girl is different. She gets forced to get married at a young age.”
Young women can’t leave the house or allow strangers to see their face, Najieh said. And after the Taliban takeover, she lost her job as a schoolteacher because she had been teaching boys.
“Being a man is better than being a woman,” she said, wiping tears from her eye. “It is very hard for me. ... If I were a man, I could be a teacher in a school.”
“I wish I could be a man, not a woman. To stop this suffering.”


Greek state TV mocked for gasoline theft ‘tips’

Updated 25 June 2022

Greek state TV mocked for gasoline theft ‘tips’

  • Video also points out where a car’s fuel tank can alternatively be pierced to steal the contents

ATHENS: Greece’s state TV was mocked Thursday over a segment that showed viewers how to siphon gasoline from cars as fuel prices soar.
“It’s not something terribly complicated... you don’t even need a special tube, even a hose for balconies will do,” the station’s reporter Costas Stamou said during ERT’s morning news program Syndeseis on Wednesday.
After demonstrating the method, a car repairman then points out where a car’s fuel tank can alternatively be pierced to steal the contents.
“Are you guys in your right mind? Giving people tips on stealing gasoline?” commented one user on Twitter.
“After the tutorial on two ways to easily steal gasoline, ERT is now preparing new how-to’s on how to open locks and steal wallets,” jibed another.
A video mixed by Greek satirical website Luben had been viewed over 170,000 times by Thursday. Another 32,500 saw the original segment on Twitter.
Fuel prices have steadily climbed in Greece in recent months, with simple unleaded at over 2.37 euros ($2.50) per liter on average in Athens on Wednesday, and over 2.50 euros on Rhodes and neighboring islands.
Greek authorities have resisted calls to cut tax on fuel, opting instead for 30-50 euro subsidies to less well-off car and motorcycle owners.
 


For Iraqi amputees football team, healing is the goal

Updated 24 June 2022

For Iraqi amputees football team, healing is the goal

  • Today, at age 22, Ali is a member of an all-amputee football team, made up entirely of players
  • The team has some 30 players and has qualified for the Amputee Football World Cup to be held in Turkey in late 2022

BAGHDAD: As a seven-year-old boy in Baghdad, Mohamed Ali dreamt of becoming a goalkeeper — until a car bomb in the central Tahrir Square ripped away his left arm.
The child had become another casualty of the sectarian blood-letting that raged in Iraq in the years after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
“I was deprived of playing football,” he said, recalling the traumatic event of 2007 that also ended his time with the junior football team of the Air Force Club in Baghdad.
Today, at age 22, Ali is a member of an all-amputee football team, made up entirely of players who lost arms or legs in Iraq’s many years of war and turmoil.
“The creation of this team brought me back to life,” he said. “It helped me regain my self-confidence.”
The team has some 30 players and has qualified for the Amputee Football World Cup to be held in Turkey in late 2022.
Its founder Mohamed Al-Najjar was studying in England when he discovered a Portsmouth amputee team and decided to replicate the experience.
Back in Iraq, he posted an announcement on social networks.
“Applications started pouring in and we formed the team in August 2021,” recalls the 38-year-old lawyer.
Najjar’s right leg was amputated after he was wounded in 2016 “while taking part in the fight against the Daesh group.”
At the time Najjar, like several of his teammates, was fighting with the pro-Iranian Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force that has since been integrated into Iraq’s regular forces.
Three times a week, he now meets up with the group to train on one of the fields of the brand new Al-Chaab complex in Baghdad.
Using crutches, one-legged players warm up by sprinting in the green jersey of the national team, then practice penalty kicks.
The goalkeeper, his left arm amputated, intercepts the ball by blocking it with his stomach.
Before they found the camaraderie of the team, Najjar said, “most of the players were suffering from severe depression.”
“Some even had thought of suicide because they had lost a limb and they had been professional players before.
“But we overcame these psychological problems,” he said, adding that it pleased him to now see his players “posting their pictures with the team on social networks.”
In the official competition, matches are played in teams of seven on fields measuring 60 by 40 meters (about 200 by 130 feet).
The goals are two meters high and five meters wide — smaller than the 2.4 by 7.3 meter goals used in traditional football.
The Iraqi state offers financial aid to victims of attacks and of battles against jihadists. The players receive monthly allowances of between $400 and $700.
Most make ends meet by working as day laborers in the markets, said Najjar.
But a major obstacle for the team is a lack of official recognition, and therefore funding, from Iraqi sports bodies.
The Poland-based International Amputee Football Federation is not part of the International Paralympic Committee.
The Iraqi team therefore receives no state subsidies, said Aqil Hamid, the head of the parliamentary committee on disability sports.
For equipment and transport, the team depends on donations from associations, said Najjar. There is also occasional help from some Hashed bodies.
“They helped us with a trip to Iran, they paid for the plane tickets,” said Najjar, adding that he hoped for “wider support.”
Another team member, Ali Kazim, lost his left leg to a Baghdad car bomb in 2006, which abruptly ended his professional football career with the Air Force Club.
“I couldn’t pursue my ambitions, I stayed at home,” said the 38-year-old.
Today, his four children are his biggest supporters.
“They are the ones who pack my sports bag,” he said. “They tell me: ‘Daddy, go train’. My morale has totally changed.”


Girls arrested for removing hijab at Iran skateboarding event: media

Updated 24 June 2022

Girls arrested for removing hijab at Iran skateboarding event: media

  • A video purporting to show Tuesday's "Go Skateboarding Day" event went viral in Iran on social media
  • Shiraz governor Lotfollah Sheybani said the event was "held with the intention of breaking social, religious and national rules and norms"

TEHRAN: Iranian police have arrested several teenage girls for not wearing headscarves at a skateboarding day in the southern city of Shiraz, along with some of the event’s organizers, state media reported Friday.
A number of girls “removed their hijab at the end of the sports event without observing the religious considerations and legal norms,” state news agency IRNA quoted Shiraz police chief Faraj Shojaee as saying.
“With the coordination of the judiciary, a number of perpetrators and people related to this gathering were identified and arrested on Thursday,” he said.
A video purporting to show Tuesday’s “Go Skateboarding Day” event went viral in Iran on social media.
“Holding any mixed sports or non-sports gathering without observing the religious and legal norms is prohibited... and the organizers will be dealt with according to the law,” Shojaee added.
Shiraz governor Lotfollah Sheybani said the event was “held with the intention of breaking social, religious and national rules and norms,” IRNA reported.
Under Islamic law in force in Iran since its 1979 revolution, women must wear a hijab that covers the head and neck while concealing the hair.
But many have pushed the boundaries over the past two decades by allowing their head coverings to slide back and reveal more hair, especially in Tehran and other major cities.
Iranian media on Sunday reported that police had arrested 120 people for alleged “criminal acts” including drinking alcohol, mixed-sex dancing and uncovering the hijab at a party in the forest in the country’s north.
Under Iranian law, only non-Muslim citizens are permitted to consume alcohol for religious purposes, while dancing with the opposite sex is forbidden.


Egyptian TV presenter slammed over claims murdered uni student should have worn veil

Updated 24 June 2022

Egyptian TV presenter slammed over claims murdered uni student should have worn veil

LONDON: Social media users have slammed an Egyptian TV presenter who claimed that murdered university student Nayera Ashraf had been at fault for not wearing a veil.

In a video post, Mabrouk Attia, who is also a professor of Islamic Shariah at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, suggested women should “fully cover up” if they did not want to “meet the same fate” as the Mansoura university student.

“Go ahead. Let your hair down and wear tight clothing. (Men) will hunt you down and kill you. Go on – personal freedom,” Attia, 63, said in the clip.

“A woman should be veiled, in order to live. She should wear loose clothing so as not to provoke … you are amid monsters. If your life is precious to you, leave your house looking like a burlap sack,” the presenter added.

A number of women’s rights supporters, the National Council for Women, and social media users condemned Attia’s statements and filed official complaints before the prosecutor general, accusing him of several legal offences, including “inciting hate speech and violence against women.”

In a tweet, one user said: “This is how Mabrouk Attia responded to the senseless slaughter of Nayera Ashraf. This lunatic sociopath is a disgrace and has nothing to do with Islam. Blaming the victim is phony nonsense.”

Another shared the video on Twitter, and said: “This video contains hate speech, criminal incitement, justifying and promoting terrorism against every woman who dares to leave her house.”

Another social media post said: “Mabrouk Attia is disgracefully victim blaming Nayera Achraf because she wasn’t wearing the hijab. We’re always told ‘cover yourself,’ ‘don’t provoke men,’ ‘be modest.’ It’s never about teaching men how to behave and respect women. We refuse to live in fear,” said another user.

Al-Azhar University distanced itself from Attia’s comments.

Later, in a video posted on his official Facebook page, Attia said that he would be suspending his social media accounts as a result of the backlash.

Ashraf was on Monday stabbed to death in broad daylight by a man as she stepped off a bus outside the university in central Egypt.

Her father claimed his daughter had been harassed more than once by the suspect, who he allegedly was upset after she refused to marry him.


6 die in crash of Vietnam-era helicopter in West Virginia

Updated 23 June 2022

6 die in crash of Vietnam-era helicopter in West Virginia

  • The Bell UH-1B “Huey” helicopter crashed along Route 17 in Logan County about 5 p.m. Wednesday
  • It was featured in movies like “Die Hard, “The Rock” and “Under Siege: Dark Territory“

LOGAN, West Virginia: A Vietnam-era helicopter showcased in action movies crashed on a rural West Virginia road, killing all six people on board, during an annual reunion for helicopter enthusiasts.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the Bell UH-1B “Huey” helicopter crashed along Route 17 in Logan County about 5 p.m. Wednesday.
All six people on board were killed, said Ray Bryant, chief of operations for the Logan County emergency ambulance service authority. The helicopter crashed in clear weather on a road near the local airport, he said.
“The entire cab of it was on fire,” Bryant said in a phone interview Thursday.
“It was recognized by the first responders as being a helicopter from this area because we see it a lot,” he said.
The crash occurred during an annual reunion for helicopter enthusiasts at MARPAT Aviation in Logan. It was scheduled to begin Tuesday and end Sunday, according to MARPAT’s website.
During the event, visitors could sign up to ride or fly the historic helicopter, described by organizers as one of the last of its kind still flying.
The helicopter was flown by the 114th Assault Helicopter Company, “The Knights of the Sky,” in Vinh Long, Vietnam, throughout much of the 1960s, according to MARPAT. After the Huey returned to the US in 1971, the website says, it was featured in movies like “Die Hard, “The Rock” and “Under Siege: Dark Territory.”
Neither reunion organizers nor MARPAT officials returned requests for comment Thursday.
Patty Belcher, who lives nearby, was driving to the store when she came upon the crash.
“There was smoke so thick that you couldn’t hardly see nothing but smoke and flames,” she said by phone Thursday. “It was coming down the ditch line on the righthand side, and I said, ‘My God, I better turn around. It might catch this truck on fire.’ So I turned around and came back.”
The crash was near the Battle of Blair Mountain historic sites, where a deadly clash erupted a century ago as thousands of coal miners marched to unionize in West Virginia.
Bobbi Childs saw smoke and flames and got close enough to see a man who was trapped.
“I saw that there was a guy trapped, I guess the captain. I tried to get down to the door where he was at. You could see him plain as day. I tried to get to him, but the fire was too hot. I couldn’t get to him,” Childs told WOWK-TV.
The road was expected to remain closed for at least 24 hours. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.
Willingham reported from Charleston, W.Virginia Schreiner reported from Frankfort, Kentucky