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They wanted so much a son to bring their daughter to life as a boy

Sanjoor, Afghanistan – At first sight, 13-year-old Mangal Karimy could be any boy who lives in a small village in western Afghanistan and feeds firewood and livestock on his father's farm.

Still, he hurries between the tasks – a small figure in bright white sneakers that drags canisters with water over barren fields.

Mangal was until the age of two Madina, one of seven daughters who had chosen her parents as a boy among an Afghan. As long as Mangal can remember, he puts his long hair under a woolen cap, puts on his jacket and pants and helps his father take care of their wheat and dairy farm in the snow-covered village of Sanjoor in the province of Herat.

Sodaba Ehrari, editor-in-chief of the Afghanistan Women News Agency (AWNA), reports that girls believe they are a burden to the family), who has interviewed several parents of bacha posh chil. Women "can not make money to feed their families, they can not live on their own ̵
1; and so many reasons (like this) prompt them to practice bacha posh in this patriarchal society," she said.

The centuries-old tradition says a lot about discrimination against Afghan girls from the beginning. After all, "nobody who has only sons, turns them into a daughter," says Hashimi.

The transition is temporary, and bacha-noble children are expected to shed their male identity once they reach puberty and live as girls again – something that is not always easy to achieve.

The superstition that a fancy child will "turn the hand of fate so that the next child in the family will be a boy," says Hashimi

Mangal's father Khoda Bakhsh Karimy told CNN that the child, should the family have a son, would live again as a girl. By the time Mangal reached puberty, Khoda and his wife Amena Karimy were "happy" with Mangal and the duties he performed, "welcoming guests to our house and offering tea or food."

"I Made My Daughter a Boy"

After Mangal had two girls, his parents longed for a son. "We made her like a son to help her father," said Mother Amena.

"I made my daughter like a boy to serve food and water when I work in the desert," Father Khoda said.

In the Dari language, there are no gender pronouns "he" and "she". But Mangal told CNN that he prefers to be addressed by his male identity – and the English equivalent "he".

His parents now believe that Mangal's gender remains unchanged at birth – female. The English translation of their conversation uses the pronoun "she".

Mangal is a valued extra pair of hands for the nine-member family, which earns about 6,000 Afghani (about $ 80) per month – even by Afghan standards scant.

  Karimy (far right), depicted with the rest of the family in Afghanistan.

"I love all my daughters, but I love Madina more when I ask her to do something like," Take care of the cattle "or" Bring something to a neighbor ". & # 39;" says Khoda. "Otherwise there is no difference between them."

The author Hashimi says that the love of Afghanistan for his sons has practical roots. In this agricultural economy, it's the boys who chop wood, plow the field, travel independently and work outside the home, she says. And when they marry, their wives – and the next generation of children – are taken into the family.

For girls, that's a different story. A daughter is expected to be "cautious" and "help with housework," says Hashimi. Outside the home, a girl "bargaining in the market" or "looking adults in the eye" would be a shock to some.

For parents without a son, bacha posh is a remedy for these obstacles across socio-economic boundaries. There is little data on the practice, but Hashimi says that almost every Afghan she interviewed for her book knew of a fancy child, regardless of region or class.

Mangal sits beside his father in her simple mud brick house and keeps his answers short. With a shy, quick smile, he says that "yes" he likes being a boy and prefers to be referred to by the English pronoun "he".

But he adds, "I'd like to be a girl again when I grow up."

Mangal likes to play football with other boys in the village where he's the only fussy kid.

His father, Khoda, says neighbors I accepted Mangal and only told him that the child "should wear the clothes of a girl when he grows up".

Then Khoda answered, "Of course."

Even if people realize that a child is actually a girl dressed as a boy, "they somehow do it," explains Hashimi.

"There is an understanding that the family uses this void to overcome this gap, to try to rectify their family and have a source of honor and pride," she says.

  Karimy studies at home.

Mangal occupies a blurred space between daughter and son. When not working on the farm, he visits a girls' school together with four of his sisters. But he is dressed as a boy and known by his masculine name.

"No, I do not consider him a son," says Khoda. "We know she's a girl, in the future she'll have to wear girls' clothes and marry someone."

Each family has its own attitude to bacha posh. Journalist Ehrari said some parents told her they wanted to "hide or not show others that they have a daughter." A son is a source of pride, while "it's a shame to have a daughter," they said.

Other parents said they absolutely wanted their daughters to "succeed." But in a society where "everything is just for men," Bacha Posh was the only way to "allow her daughters to live in freedom," Ehrari said.

Their clothes may be different, but the inequality remains, said Ehrari. "This is an injustice to women, that they can not be themselves and live like a woman."

"There were so many advantages and disadvantages"

The transition to life as a girl – especially after a brief look at male liberties – can be a painful process. [19659003] Shazia, who did not want her surname published, was nine years old and lived in Kabul in 1990 when her parents decided to convert her to bacha posh for five years.

Shazia's parents had already sent her during the Civil War Two older brothers have traveled to Russia to avoid being drafted. But when her father, a middle-class businessman involved in imports and exports, lost his leg in an accident, her mother and the remaining six daughters remained without breadwinner.

"Then my family decided to dress for me as a boy," says Shazia, the third daughter, who was old enough to help her mother out of the house – but still young enough to pose as a boy.

"I had to play the role of a son," says Shazia, who wore the male name Mirwas and was made to cut her hair and wear boy's clothes.

  The collection of adobe houses where Karimy lives.

Practically overnight, Shazia's daily work changed dramatically – from "cleaning and feeding the chickens" to "accompanying my mother to the local market". Sometimes Shazia even got food for herself, which she called "a great undertaking, especially for a young girl."

"There were so many pros and cons of being smart," says Shazia, now a 37-year-old mother of three daughters who worked for a women's NGO in the US.

As "Mirwas," she was able to fly kites, play football with neighborhood kids, ride my dad's bike-all of these were not ordinary activities for a girl in Afghanistan, "Shazia told CNN by phone from her New home York.

But she was also bullied by her sister and cousin because she wore boys' clothes and was tasked with the most strenuous tasks. "During the harsh winter, I had to line up and get bread to feed my family," says Shazia, "I was jealous of my sisters in the house, warm-hearted."

"I was trapped between girls and boys"

While the immediate family knew Shazia's true identity, the larger neighborhood was She does not know and describes the torment of "playing two different roles in society."

"I felt about my features, my clothes and my stature is particularly uncertain compared to boys of my age, "she says. "This imposed lifestyle was not my choice, I was stuck between girls and boys."

Hashimi says this transition between the sexes would "essentially impose an identity crisis on a young psyche". She says that the bacha posh tradition could trigger a "gender dysphoria" in which children "simply are not satisfied with their biological gender and feel they belong in another world".

Shazia's return to childhood happened when 13-year-old older sisters interfered and told the family, "That's enough."

"My sister was really, very hard," says Shazia. "She beat me up, she kicked out all my men's clothes, she said you had to become a girl."

Shazia's parents agreed and gradually she reappeared as a girl, initially afraid to leave. "outside because my neighbors would see me" and "wear a big scarf until my hair grew long enough".

A few months later, the family moved to Pakistan, and Shazia fully accepted her female identity. But years of childhood or a male identity have "baffled me about my identity," she says.

Bittersweet Return to Childhood

For many chic children, being a girl again may be bittersweet, says Hashimi. "It's an experience of being on the other side, in a country where these two sides are remarkably different." In extreme cases, they may even refuse to live as women again.

Given the low data available, it is difficult to say whether practice is dwindling or growing. But Hashimi believes that bacha posh will eventually "die out if Afghan society continues to advance women's place in society."

In recent years, the Taliban have stepped up their influence on Afghanistan – between 60% and 70% of the country now challenged or under its control. As the militant Islamist group gains ground, gender inequality – and the need for bacha posh – will continue, Hashimi said.
Each year, Women for Afghan Women advocates support at least two bacha posh cases in their women's shelters across the country. The girls between the ages of 14 and 18 "are not in a stable emotional, mental and financial state," said group executive director Najia Nasim.

Many are referred by the police to the emergency shelters. The girls are usually "friends with boys and have more freedom," Nasim said. She added that they are "frequently abused by people" who cause them to "dance, drink and engage in sexual activities," said Nasim, and with the help of mediators and psychiatric services, they could also be back in

CNN turned to the Afghan government for comments on its position on bacha posh, but received no response.

  Karimy (far right) is the third of seven Daughters selected as a boy.

Ehrari von However, the Afghanistan Women News Agency said the government has traditionally not spoken out against bacha posh because it believed that the practice stemmed from Afghan culture and was a custom that could not be changed. "

Major At 18, Shazia was married to a New York-based Afghans. While her husband "wholeheartedly supports her chic past," the couple has never talked about it much before, she says. Instead, it was her 17-year-old daughter who encouraged Shazia to publicly share her story for the first time.

"I have three girls. & # 39; I said, "No, boys can not do anything girls can not do," says Shazia.

"Girls are not a burden, they are really a blessing." Meanwhile, Mangal continues in Sanjoor with his daily work, diligently shoveling the soil at his father's side in the winter cold.

A group of younger boys from the neighborhood watch from a short distance. Mangals sisters stay hidden in the house.

Ehsan Popalzai of CNN contributed to this report.

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