Women's Issues

It Is Heartbreaking That Afghan Girls Have To Pose As Boys To Have A Better Life

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I know we all tend to joke around about having “first world problems” and sometimes, I read something about life in another part of the world that makes me realize how incredibly lucky we all are that our kids are relatively safe at all times. The fact that we are free to be happy about our child’s gender no matter what is a privilege I’m sure we all take for granted. There is a new book called “The Underground Girls of Kabul” that details life for Afghan girls who’s families disguise them as boys during their childhood so they may be afforded basic privileges such as going to the market, climbing a tree or simply speaking up for themselves. It is heartbreaking that Afghan girls have to pose as boys to have any hope of a decent childhood. Things like this bring into stark relief how fortunate we all are to live in a place where boys and girls are valued equally and treated as such.

This article in today’s NY Post explains what life is like in Afghanistan for a girl or woman and sheds light on why some parents are motivated to let their daughters live as boys for as long as possible:

By the time she was 6, Mehran lived as a boy. The youngest of four, Mehran was born to an illiterate father and his second wife, an educated politician named Azita — “the rebel mother,” as Nordberg writes.

Mehran’s mother knows better than anyone the dangers of being a girl. Her parents sent her to Kabul University, and she was eventually elected to the nation’s parliament — yet her father forced her to marry an illiterate cousin who beats her.

“Why would I make my daughter into a son if this society was working?” she asks Nordberg. “Nothing has changed, and nothing will change. It’s only going in the wrong direction here.”


I think any parent can relate to the feeling of wanting your child to be happy and accepted by society. Can you imagine having to cloak your daughter in the identity of a boy just so she has some chance of a good childhood? This article brings up the many reasons why it is horrific to be a woman in Afghanistan. This is a country where it is legal to rape your wife. The husband owns the children and can divorce his wife at any point but she cannot leave him. The wife cannot even say her own wedding vows- a male representative has to say them for her. Is it any wonder that a mother would go to great lengths for her “daughter” to be accepted in society and not treated like a marginalized piece of garbage? This whole thing is so appalling and I do not blame these parents at all for what they are doing.

It gives a whole new meaning to “gender disappointment” when having a girl could literally mean your life is at stake. There are Afghan people that truly believe a mother has control over the gender of her baby and that it is deeply suspicious if she is not able to bear a son:

And when a woman gives birth to a girl, there are usually tears: another child who is not a boy. In Afghanistan, a woman’s sole purpose in life is to bear sons. And in a country where 9 million adults are illiterate, it’s still believed that a woman can have a son if only she wishes hard enough. Even the educated believe that a woman’s uterus is directly connected to her brain.


This is a people that believe a literal fairy tale and will question a woman’s worth if she cannot have a baby boy. This passage from the above-referenced female politician named Azita describes why she decided to disguise her youngest daughter as a boy. This is simply horrifying to me:

When Azita and her family relocated to Kabul in 2005, her four daughters were an impediment to her career. Politicians and citizens expressed deep suspicion: If Azita couldn’t give birth to a son, how could she be trusted to hold a seat in parliament? Why would anyone want to be represented by such an abject failure, or a woman who perhaps didn’t want sons badly enough? What kind of woman was she?

Shortly thereafter, Azita and her husband came up with a plan. They asked Mehran, their youngest girl, if she’d like to become a boy. She immediately said yes.

“I wanted to show my youngest what life is like on the other side,” Azita said.


This is obviously deplorable and I cannot imagine telling my daughter she must be a boy in order to be accepted but I deeply admire Azita for what she is doing if only so there is a female politician among the Afghan government who may one day be able to bring about the change in beliefs so sorely needed for this nation. The next time I joke about my “first world problems” I will try to keep in mind the fact that life really is so horrible for our fellow women around the globe. I hope this book helps to shed light on this issue so real change can occur.

(Image:  Pal Teravagimov/Shutterstock)