In Afghanistan, where society is ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as a failure.
A bacha posh (literally “dressed up like a boy” in Dari) is a third kind of child – a girl who will be raised as a boy and presented as a son to the world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke this story for The New York Times, constructs a dramatic account of Afghan women and girls clandestinely living on the other side of the gender divide that grants half its population almost no rights and little freedom.
Set against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war, The Underground Girls of Kabul follows Afghan girls who live disguised as boys through childhood and puberty, only to be expected by adult age to transform into subordinate wives and mothers. But the battle of nature versus nurture lingers, and some bacha posh will refuse to rescind their male prerogatives in what the UN calls the world’s most dangerous country to be a woman.
The book is anchored by vivid female characters who bring this ancient phenomenon to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian whose youngest daughter is chosen to pose as her only son; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and resists her parents’ attempts to turn her into a woman; Shukria, who was forced to marry and have three children after living for twenty years as a man; and Shahed, an Afghan special forces soldier, still in disguise as an adult man.
Offering a new and original story about Afghanistan and its women, The Underground Girls of Kabul investigates the hidden practice of bacha posh that has affected generations, while examining its parallels to our own history. The act of reaching for more freedom by impersonating a man is one that can be recognized by women everywhere.