Imagine if your parents told you ‘You are no longer a girl. You are now a boy,’ and you were forced to simply change your identity.
Bacha posh is an old, unspoken Afghan tradition that allows families without a son to transform their daughters into boys, by cutting their hair short and dressing them in boys clothes. The practice has a dual role. The girl is now able to undertake manual duties usually reserved for boys, whilst simultaneously preserving the family’s honour. Once puberty hits, they are expected to return to their life as a girl. The expectations completely change as they become resigned to a life of lingering nostalgia.
But what happens once they have had a taste of tantalising freedom?
Ukmina Manoori, the author of memoir I am a Bacha Posh, was such a girl. She adapted to her life as a boy, helping her family, attending school and feeling like a productive member of society. When it came time for her to wear a veil and start thinking about marriage, Ukmina rebelled, preferring the freedom of being a man.
Manoori’s determination shines through in her story as she refuses to bow to public expectation. She rightfully earns her moniker of ‘Ukmina the Warrior’ by leading a life of adventure and gaining the respect of her community. She fights against the Russians, enters politics and tirelessly works to improve women’s rights.
But there eventually comes a time when Ukmina lives in isolation, in fear of the Taliban and even her fellow villagers who do not agree with her life choices. Only a holy pilgrimage to Mecca will provide a sign as to whether Ukmina should stick to her convictions.
Despite all her accomplishments, there is an underlying theme of loneliness throughout Bacha Posh. During this simply told story there are times when I could not even begin to fathom the barriers women face in Afghanistan. Indeed, some of the stories Manoori uses as examples of great victory, we may only regard as small progress. Despite this, she manages to make our every day problems suddenly pale in significance, making her journey even more compelling and incredible.
With this book, Manoori demonstrates that despite all the challenges she has been given in her life, striving for respect and independence is worth the battle, no matter the price.
Maria Nitsolas is an aspiring writer and principal of Prototype Proofreading & Editing. She tweets @Prototype_Proof.