Jenny Nordberg is a Swedish journalist and a member of the Consortium of Independent Investigative Journalists. She has studied the position of women in Afghanistan for years and discovered on one of her assignments the astonishing existence of what is known bacha posh.
"The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan," published in 2014, exposes readers to the bacha posh custom of teaching young girls to pose as boys.
Every family has a different need for bacha posh. Some do it because they have only daughters and desperately need a son to avoid the social stigma attached to the failure of not bearing a son. Others see the need for a second son. Whatever the reason, it can be challenging to live in a climate where females have almost no rights or freedoms.
Nordberg chooses to highlight a number of actual cases which illustrate the advantages and hazards of bacha posh.
Chosen young women are nurtured as thought they were boys. Dress, habits, expectations in behavior and privileges of their male counterparts are heaped on the child. Most girls are happy to be boys because this means they live privileged lives. They are free to play physical games outside the house, given extras and are able to go to school unafraid.
The trouble for all bacha posh children begins at puberty.
Having absorbed the lives of boys, they are now expected to return to female roles of marriage and submission. They react in various ways, and it is in the author's exploration of these tragedies that Nordberg dissects brilliantly the nature of Afghanistan society.
Questions of gender identity, female disenfranchisement and the roles of women are fully analyzed by Nordberg with empathy, discernment and compassion. This alone makes the book a must read for all intent on understanding such complex subjects.