Reviewed by Abu Dhabi resident Kubra Mubashir who runs Abu Dhabi-based bookclub Ravenous Readers. Find them on Facebook.
Having heard about the rise and growth of the Taliban and their strict imposition (of their interpretation) of the Sharia law I only assumed that life for women in Afghanistan must have been hard. However after coming across this book, I realised that there is a pattern in the subjugation of women ---either by using religion or culture as the whip to beat them with.
Initially I assumed that "bacha posh" must be prevalent amongst the rural or uneducated populace but I was sadly mistaken. In Afghanistan, even the doctors believe in the importance of bearing a son. Dr Fareiba exclaiming "We are the Pashtun people. We need the son" summed up the desire and dependence of happiness of families on the birth of a son
The parents/children have many reasons for blurring their existence. The reasons range from the social pressure on the family to produce a boy; to feed the family or it's just the child desiring to enjoy the rights of the male.
All however don't cross back easily because some are unsure about which side they belong to, some miss the freedom they once enjoyed but some are confident of their existence and mental strength while some never cross over and resist any attempt in this direction
As one mother of a bacha posh opines "Bacha posh is less about preference for sons and more a symptom of how poorly the society works".
After reading the stories I wondered what social system forces parents to make their children cross dressers; go forth into the world as someone they are not. Can they not imagine the trauma they subject the child to at puberty when he is expected to cross back into a normal life? What must the girls go through with having been given full freedom till 13 years and then total subjugation for the remaining period of their lives.
Things won't change in Afghanistan. The absence of a stable government, law and order coupled with the hold of the Taliban and rustic war lords in a mountainous areas where culture and social norms weigh heavily over religion, logic or education means things won't change much. As long as women are handled as stooges and pawns, disrespected and treated as housemaids meant only for child bearing, such phenomena will continue to propagate and thrive. For these women gender is optional but freedom is what they desire
It's one of the few books that moved me considerably. Well written, precise and well researched.