Sanam sits among boys in a classroom at a mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan – Photo: NBC NEWS
In a residential area of Kabul, a group of boys are playing soccer together. Looking at the short haircuts and active clothes, it is difficult for outsiders to recognize Sanam – a little girl – among the boys.
Less than 8 years old, Sanam is a bacha posh, ie a girl who lives like a boy.
A few months ago, Sanam’s family cut his hair, dressed him as a boy and gave him a boy’s name Omid.
Since then, I have been able to play soccer, wrestle with a neighbor’s friend and help my family earn money.
In Afghanistan, women are only allowed to hang around at home. Therefore bacha posh has become a solution to help girls enjoy more freedoms, just like boys.
In this way, a girl must dress, behave like a boy, and be treated like a boy. They will receive all the rights and obligations of a son such as playing sports, attending religious schools and earning money.
However, all of this disappears when girls reach puberty. Then, they must return to the right precepts and duties, living within the harsh limits of Islamic canon law.
The Taliban’s position on is still unclear bacha posh how. This organization has come to power in Afghanistan since August 2021.
According to NBC News, the Taliban’s current governance style is less draconian than it was when they took power in the 1990s. Song, women’s freedom is still significantly limited.
Anthropology professor Thomas Barfield at Boston University (USA) said that the Taliban may not mention this practice, because this is only a temporary way.
“This custom only exists in the family and does not last forever (the girl will return to her role when she becomes an adult), so the Taliban will not handle it,” Barfield said.
Professor Barfield said bacha posh is one of the least talked about gender topics in Afghanistan.
The girls chosen to be bacha posh often has a lively and bold personality. “The role was so fitting that people around didn’t even know it existed,” Mr Barfield said.
There are many reasons why Afghan parents want their daughters to be bacha posh. Traditionally, boys are valued more than girls, and this custom often occurs in families where there are no sons.
Some see it as a status symbol. Some believe it will bring good luck, helping the next child to be born a boy. But for others like the Sanam family, it’s economic.
Last year, the Afghan economy collapsed and jobs became scarce. Father Sanam lost his job as a plumber due to a back injury. He switched to selling face masks and earned about 1-2 USD per day.
Sanam’s parents have 4 daughters and 1 son, but their 11-year-old son’s arm cannot function much after the injury. So Sanam must become bacha posh to help his father.