Friday, October 3, 2014
The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg (Book Review)
About the book-
In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom.
The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults.
At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.
When I read stories about the oppression women deal with in other parts of the world, especially the middle east, I am so very thankful to have been born an American. I could not imagine my whole existence being nothing more than bearing a male child or to be ostracized, shamed or even starved by my family for having a girl. I ave never heard of the practice of bacha posh, but that is exactly why this book intrigued me. I tried to imagine myself in these women's shoes and I could see why they would dress up their girls as boys. It is a desperate measure, but it can make all of the difference in a family. I find it appalling that these Afghani men could treat their women this way. It just does not make sense to me. A. A woman can not control what sex her child is (the Afghani people believe that they can just through sheer determination) and b. the man's sperm is actually what determines to the sex of a baby. Imagine if these men realized they were to blame for what they consider a shortcoming. Honestly, I doubt it would make a difference. This book broke my heart. I knew that it is looked down upon to have all girls or to not be able to bear a son, but I had no idea about the shaming and starving and just downright mean treatment of these women. It makes perfect sense that to have a better life as a family they would resort to presenting their girls as boys. I can not imagine the fear they must feel pretty constantly at being found out or the desperation that lead them to make the decision to live this way, but at the same time I applaud them and admire them for fighting the only way they can against the oppressive society in which they live. This was a fascinating story. I do not think many people realize the atrocities that happen when it comes to child bearing in the middle east and even if they do, this is definitely an interesting read. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes learning about other cultures or who is interested in social change.
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