Afghanistan's Female Sons

The Tradition of Bacha Posh

When dressed as a boy, Tamana Mirwais, 10, can sell biscuits and drinks on the street for her family. Casper Hedberg / Kontinent

In Afghanistan, there are girls, there are boys, and then there are the bacha posh, a temporary third gender for girls who live as boys. The practice is at least a century old and is used by families of all socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities to navigate Afghanistan's deeply patriarchal society, which values sons over daughters. Although only a sliver of the population engages in the bacha posh custom, precise numbers are hard to nail down, as there has never been an effort to track the practice.

Afghanistan’s preference for sons stems from its agricultural roots. Male children typically performed the hard labor required to support their families. They built homes, chopped wood, and plowed fields. Boys could travel independently and work outside the home. When they married, sons would bring their wives into the family and expand the nuclear family with their own children. In short, sons contributed in

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