Monday, August 31, 2015

The Underground Girls of Kabul

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

In Afghanistan, being born a girl is not a birth that is celebrated.  This is a society of boys and men.  Girls are good for one thing.  Actually, more than one thing.  They are used as a means to birthing boys, they are used as currency and they are used as pawns in upholding the honor of families.  In their own right they have no rights.

But what happens when a wife gives birth to only girls?  Boys bring honor to the family.  A family with no boys is looked on with suspicion and pity and held in less esteem.  In this society, there is a secret.  Often a family will appoint one of the younger daughters to become a boy.  She will be given a boy’s name, clothes and freedom.  She will be allowed outside to run and play and go to school and work to help support the family, to be a guardian to the other girls in the family, to be a comfort. She will be given freedom.  All this until she enters puberty and then she is turned back into a girl.  She will be sold off in marriage to maybe someone near her age or maybe as a second wife to an older man wanting sons.  

From this point she will live her life as her husband wants.  If he is liberal he might let her work.  If not, she will be a prisoner in her home for the rest of her life giving birth to,  hopefully, some boys sprinkled in amongst the girls. 

Author Jenny Nordberg uncovered a secret no one knew about.  She travelled with interpreters and met  women who became bacha posh, meaning literally, dressed like a boy.  Some were boys for a few years, some refused to change back to women when the time came, one was a boy/man for 20 years and is now the mother of three working as a nurse. 

Fascinating is a small word for this story.  This truth.  Another truth:  we live very sheltered lives.

This book was a review copy  from Blogging for Books


  1. Hi Denice, I have read a few books on the children and girls in these areas, so I was aware of this. This is what I love about authors and storytellers though, it is the education we receive by listening to those who have travelled further afield and can relate with little predjudice about what they saw. A read many years ago titled "the sewing circles of Karat" ......actually I have forgotten the name of the town but I think that is a good approximation. It was an excellent rebelling of how brave men and woman set up clandestine schools under the guise of sewing circles. It also went in the explain the many many layers of history of raids and invasions of Afghanistan and how each wave of western invaders failed to understand the rich culture and war like tribal makeup of the inhabitants. I learnt much more about Afghanistan from this story than I ever could from the filtered media, the author was not motivated by any political agenda but was a westerner who observed and relayed a story steeped in history. If we cannot learn our history we are doomed to repeat it.......and in that part of the world we so often repeat history.
    It is heartening to know that there are so many families that bravely try to educate their daughters.

  2. just looked it up...The sewing circles of Herat! xxx