In the patriarchal Nangarhar, Afghanistan, a gender-bending custom exists to enable women to perform the everyday duties of men, but often against their will.
Sitara Wafadar, 18, just wants to grow her hair long and participate in everyday duties with her sisters and the other girls in their village, but for more than a decade, her parents have forced her to become the ‘son’ they never had.
In a family of five sisters and no brother, Sitara has to live by “bacha poshi”, a practice that refers to girls who are dressed as boys, that allow them to “safely” perform the duties of a son.
Every morning Sitara puts on the baggy shirt and trousers, and flip flops typically worn by Afghan males, sometimes even covering her short brown hair with a scarf, and deepening her voice to conceal her real gender.
“I never think that I am a girl,” Sitara told AFP while at the brick factory where she and her elderly father work six days a week as bonded laborers.
“My father always says ‘Sitara is like my eldest son’. Sometimes… I attend funerals as his eldest son,” something she would never be allowed to do as a girl, the report adds.
Bacha poshi normally occurs in a family with no male heirs, and in a country where boys are more highly valued than girls, they are often forced to abide by the custom so that she can carry out the duties of a son without getting harassed, as women are expected to be at the home.
Sitara says she continued to wear men’s clothing after reaching puberty, so she could “protect” herself while at the brick kiln.
“If they realized that an 18-year-old girl was working morning to evening in a brick factory then I would encounter many problems. I could even be kidnapped,” she said.
Sitara said she continues to work at the kiln not only to help provide income for the family, but also as a way for her younger sister to avoid the same fate of bacha poshi.
“If I don’t work we will face a lot of hardship and problems.”
Read her story here.