In a Kabul neighborhood, boys kick a yellow ball around a dusty playground. As they play, they seem alike. But the child named Sanam is different. At not quite eight years old, Sanam is a bacha posh—a girl living as a boy.
In Afghanistan, the ruling Taliban curtailed women’s freedoms. In the male-dominated society, females are kept mostly at home. Most women may not work, and most girls may not attend public schools beyond primary school.
Bacha posh is a tradition that lets girls access the freer male world. A bacha posh dresses, behaves, and is treated as a boy, with all the liberties and duties that entails. The child can play sports, attend religious school, and work. But the freedom doesn’t last forever.
A few months ago, Sanam got a haircut, donned boys’ clothes, and took a boy’s name, Omid, opening up a new world. Playing soccer with boys, working a job, and even making direct eye contact are now acceptable for her. As she ages, she, like other bacha posh, must eventually revert to traditional gender roles—and lose their freedoms.
It’s unclear where the practice of bacha posh originated or how old it is. Because of its relative secrecy, it is impossible to know how widespread it might be.
The tradition is a puzzling, human-centered view of God’s design of male and female. (Genesis 5:2) Sadly, in years ahead, Sanam will likely face serious problems that stem from her society’s mistreatment of women.
The reasons parents want a bacha posh vary. Sons traditionally have more worth than daughters, so the practice usually occurs in families without a boy.
Last year, Sanam’s father lost his job. He began selling masks, making $1 to $2 per day. But he needed a helper.
The family has a son. But the 11-year-old doesn’t have full use of his hands due to an injury. So the parents decided to make Sanam a bacha posh.
“Her father doesn’t have anyone to help him,” says Sanam’s mother. “I will consider her my son until she becomes a teenager.”
“I wear [male clothes], jeans and jackets, and go with my father and work,” Sanam says. She enjoys playing with her brother’s friends.
Sanam knows she’ll return to living like a girl someday: “When I grow up, I will let my hair grow and will wear girl’s clothes.”
Years ago, Najieh was a bacha posh. Now married with children, she weeps for her lost freedoms.
“In Afghanistan, boys are more valuable,” she says. “There is no oppression for them, and no limits.”
Why? Oppressing part of their population helps Taliban leaders prop up their wicked government. Isaiah warns that God will “decide disputes for many peoples” (2:4) and rule “with justice and with righteousness.” (9:7)