Sunday, December 14

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

Afghanistan is a country ruled by men, and so the birth of a son brings honor and joy to a family, whereas a girl is considered a disappointment. When a family has multiple girls and no boys, they are looked down on by their family and friends. But not all families choose to live in shame. When a daughter is born they raise her as a boy, and present her as a boy, until she is older, a practice called bacha posh.

Award winning Journalist, Jenny Nordberg, first brought this phenomenon to light for the New York Times. In The Underground Girls of Kabul, she follows several women who participate in this activity. They range from a female politician who poses her youngest daughter as a boy, to a girl who is resisting her parent’s efforts to transition her back into a girl, to a woman who lived for 20 years as a boy but is now a married mother of three.

From the beginning to the end, I found this to be a fascinating book. While I have heard about the patriarchal society in Afghanistan, and how women are treated as inferior period, often harshly so, I would’ve never imagined a scenario where a family would pose a daughter as a son. What was even more surprising is how accepted it was (though there are, of course, those who look down on it). The women that grow up as boys often find it hard to then switch and act as a woman. During their childhood they were raised with a freedom that they know cannot have. Through their stories, the lack of gender equality is made even clearer.

In addition to the issues of gender equality and what it could mean to be raised as the opposite sex, Jenny also looks at the religious influences on gender roles. Surprisingly, Zoroastrianism had a strong influence in how women are often considered property to buy and sell. I had never released that Zoroastrianism could’ve had such a noticeable effect on such a strongly Islamic country.

Through a combination of a unique subject and strong writing, Jenny Nordberg delivers a powerful and fascinating book. Those with even a passing interest in the Middle East or in gender studies may find this a must read.

5/5 Stars

I received this book free from Crown Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

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