Q & A with Marie Claire Australia, about the work to find the Underground Girls:
Girls Dressing As Boys In Afghanistan
Shared from Marie Claire
Jenny Nordberg wasn’t looking for bacha posh – an Afghani term for girls who dress and live as boys – when she first stumbled upon the practice. She didn’t even know such a thing existed when she first met Mehran Rafaat, a six-year-old girl from Kabul who lives as a boy, in 2009. What came next was a five-year investigation into this little known occurrence as Nordberg attempted to unravel what it means to be a girl, dressed as a boy, in a country where women suffer significant oppression every day.
MC: What is a bacha posh?
JN: It means “dressed up like a boy” in Dari [one of the country’s official languages]. In Afghanistan, you can have a son, a daughter, or you can have a bacha posh … a third kind of child. It’s a made-up son. What it means in a very practical sense is that you have a daughter and instead of her having long hair and a skirt and a headscarf, you cut off her hair, you put her in a pair of pants.
MC: Why would some parents choose to raise their daughter as a bacha posh?
JN: Many of those things that little girls are not allowed to do in Afghanistan are open to a bacha posh. They can work in a store and run errands. As a girl [in Afghanistan] you are not supposed to look anyone in the eye and [you must] be very modest because you bear the honour of the family with you. So a girl who looks like a boy can move around more freely. Some of these girls actually go to school disguised as boys.
MC: What happens when they transition into adolescence?
JN: Those who [were bacha posh] for a few years at a very young age will mostly speak of it as a positive experience. It gave them the confidence to speak their minds. But then I think the closer you get to puberty, the more of the male was left and “stuck” with them. To put it in context: there’s war, there’s extreme insecurity, there’s poverty and on top of that you’re a teenager. This is the time we’re supposed to form a personality and you’re growing up as a gender other than your birth sex.