Jenny Nordberg’s 2013 book The underground girls of Kabul: in search of a hidden resistance in Afghanistan explores the phenomenon of bacha posh – Afghan girls who assume the role of boys, but revert back to womanhood at the onset of puberty.
Nordberg meets Afghan mothers like Azita, one of the rare female members of Parliament, from the rural Badghis province. Azita has changed her youngest daughter into a bacha posh named Mehran.
As a boy, Mehran is able to do everything she cannot as an Afghan girl – play freely on the streets, look people in the eye and feel that people are listening to her.
Azita herself was a bacha posh for five years, and credits her experience on the other side of the fence as giving her the courage to pursue her career as a politician.
But other bacha posh are not so lucky.
Shukria, an anaesthesiologist nurse, struggled to revert back to the restriction of womanhood after the freedom of a male childhood, and talks about how confusing and uncomfortable she found learning to be a woman.
Zahra, who at sixteen is now too old to be a bacha posh, refuses to change back to a woman and marry, instead dreaming of escaping Afghanistan for the West, where she can live freely as a male.
Nordberg shines a light on the world of Afghan women, so often hidden inside their homes and behind veils.
The underground girls of Kabul shows how even in the face of crushing repression, women continue to defy society and take their lives into their hands, in whatever ways they can.
The underground girls of Kabul: in search of a hidden resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg
Reviewed by Hannah C., Mount Albert Community Library.
Hannah C. likes reading books and hates allergies.