In a world where males are praised, Fashion makes a big difference

A September 21st New York Times front-page article,” Afghan Boys Are Prized , SO Girls Live the Part”, by Jenny Nordberg, revealed a fascinating segment of life in Afghanistan, one where  having a son  and the privileges that comes with simply being born a male,  are so revered that families are dressing their little girls in males clothing.

The article featured Mehran Rafaat, a six-year-old  Afghan girl, whose mother, Azita Raafat, disguises as boy so that she would have the benefit of a proper education, among other reasons.

“In a land where sons are more highly valued, since in the tribal culture usually only they can inherit the father’s wealth and pass down a name, families without boys are the objects of pity and contempt. Even a made-up son increases the family’s standing, at least for a few years.”- Afghan Boys Are Prizes, So Girls Live the Part

According to the article, while Mehran’ s sisters’ are dressed in traditional female attire, black dresses and hijabas or head scarves, for school, Mehran, whose hair is cut short and cropped- like a boy’s- wears a white shirt with a necktie and green pants.

Mehran Rafaat and her older sisters.

Azita, Mehran’s mother, grew up in Kabul and was a top student who spoke six languages. As a young girl she had dreams of one day becoming a doctor. She never got to accomplish her dreams, instead, she was forced by her father to become her cousin’s second wife.  In 2002 , after the fall of the Taliban and with the mandatory permission from her husband, she became one 0f the 68 female members of the Afghan Parliament. Her husband, who is illiterate, is now a stay at home dad.

Azita’s decision to dress Mehran as a boy stems from her own childhood experience, she too was raised as a boy. As a child, she went to an all girls school in the morning but in afternoon she , being eldest in her family, helped her father, a shop owner, by running errands, as a boy. Azita credits her experience as a boy with giving her the confidence she needs to interact in the male dominated world of the Afghan Parliament.

Azita Raafat and one of her daughters by Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

According to the Times, in Afghanistan some families have many reasons to dress their little girls in boys clothing. Some do so because of  “economic need”, others because of pressure from their society to have sons. According to Nordberg’s article, there are no laws against the practice. In fact, it is a commonly accepted one. The young girls are even called a specific name,“bacha posh” which  means “dressed up as a boy” in Dari, that distinguish them from being girls or boys.

When the young girls or ” bacha posh” reach the age puberty most families decide to have them return to womanhood.

The confusion that must come with life experience is unimaginable. First these girls are raised in an environment where they can do, say, and go where ever they please but as soon as the physical traits that make them women begin to show, they are forced to give up the lives they’ve always known. It’s already hard being a girl in any society, but especially a place like Afghanistan, this must make it a lot harder.

Azitia said she hopes the experience does not have an effect on Mehran’s psyche and personality. After all, her own experience did help her to become the respected member of parliament she is today.

The Rafaats have not yet decided when they will have Mehran return to womanhood.


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