I just finished reading Jenny Nordburg's The Underground Girls of Kabul: In search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. I found this book to be riveting, educational and astounding.
To think that many Afghan families, the father included, encourage and even insist on bacha posh for some of their daughters is to rethink everything I've ever heard about Afghanistan. Bacha posh is the practice of girls in a family being raised as boys, right down to how they dress and cut their hair. Most who practice bacha posh "turn back into a girl" at puberty......but, curiously, not all do.
In their culture, it's an absolute tragedy for an Afghan family to be made up only of girls. When there are only girls, one of those girls has to become a boy. So, the family either raises her as a boy right at birth, or turns her into a boy at some point in her childhood. One girl went to school her first 2 years as a girl, then returned her 3rd year as boy. One parent explained, "We have no sons," and that was all the explanation the teacher needed. If you have no sons, make your daughter into a son. This is an acceptable solution. Since daughters are so dreaded and every family has to have a son, turning a daughter into a son is a reasonable solution and very widely accepted throughout Afghanistan.
Girls in Afghanistan can't go outside without a male escort, even as children. If a young girl is playing outside with a brother close by, though, it's ok. If she has to walk to school (if she gets to go to school), she can do so with a brother. She cannot walk alone and it's not enough to walk with a sister. For a family of girls to have any chance of a future at all, at least one of those girls has to pass herself off as a boy.
There are many rules for girls and women in Afghanistan. All these rules are made and reinforced by men. However, some women also uphold and enforce the rules. The author points out that a society is not truly oppressed until they oppress one another. Women who have capitulated to the rules, for any reason (even forced), oppress other women in an effort to force them to also capitulate to the rules. There are very few rules for boys and men in Afghanistan. Those who make the rules are rarely held to the rules.
Interestingly, some fathers want their daughters to get an education, have a career and even serve in government offices. These fathers are also beaten down by the culture and, to a large extent, not able to help their daughters accomplish these goals.
This seems like patriarchy in the extreme. This seems like behavior we would never see in the west or in western culture. But, sadly, we do see similar behaviors in the west, of all places, in the church.
I'm not talking about some segments of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which practice polygamy and oppression of women more openly. I'm talking about the average fundamental, evangelical church in America and the places these American churches have sent missionaries. The vast majority of these churches teach and practice oppression of women.
This oppressive culture, mentioned in the Pii Report done on ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism) after Donn Ketcham's pedophile acts, and subsequent cover ups, were revealed, and continues to be present in churches and evangelical organizations. Women continue to be sidelined. False interpretations of Scripture continue to be prominent and misused in an attempt to intimidate women, often causing them to doubt their own relationship with God.
Do you have any idea how far this oppression goes? Look around you. It's highly likely a woman or girl was assaulted or abused in your church - recently. Those of us who work with these women are aware of how frequent this is. Their pastors generally live in a state of ignorance or denial, thinking it can't happen in his church.
Patriarchy is the crux of the problem.
Rid your church of patriarchy and you will rid yourself of much of the abuse.
What's happening in Afghanistan with bacha posh is not as far-fetched as you might think. Did you know that J.K.Rowling used her initials for her name because she's a woman and her publisher didn't think people would buy such a book from a woman? Yes, look it up; it's true. So, here we have a modern, European woman pretending to be a man, or at least veiling the fact that she's a woman, in order to accomplish something women are not "permitted" to accomplish by cultural standards.
And some people, evangelical pastors especially, think there's no problem at all.
Their ignorance is blinding to me.
Photo courtesy of Imagebase.