Imagine being a girl – craving for dressing up in colourful clothes, wearing fancy jewellery and having luscious long hair – but instead being forced to hide your gender identity.
Even the idea is soul-crushing and suffocating, but this ordeal is actually a reality for an Afghan teenager, Sitara Wafadar.
Wearing shabby clothes, cutting hair in short and that hair too, is covered in a scarf so that not an ounce of her true gender identity shines through, Sitara wakes up every day to pretend in front of the world that she is a boy.
Bacha Poshi is a practice adopted in Afghanistan since decades and some parts of Pakistan as well, in which girls are forced to have the physical appearance of a boy so that they can assist their fathers on tougher labour jobs.
In a tightly structured patriarchal society, for a woman to survive on especially these physically demanding jobs is near to impossible.
From 7 am in the morning to 5 pm in the evening, 18-year-old Sitara performs labour equal to her male counterparts.
She says that the memory of her being a girl has long-faded in her mind and now after years of pretending to be a son to her parents, she has started viewing herself that way as well.
“I never think that I am a girl. My father always says ‘Sitara is like my eldest son. Sometimes… I attend funerals as his eldest son’’ – she said talking to AFP.
Even after being capable of executing similar nature of work, she still hides her gender to ensure her security.
‘’If they realized that an 18-year-old girl was working morning to evening in a brick factory then I would encounter many problems. I could even be kidnapped.’’
In the scorching heat, Sitara bakes 500 bricks daily and earns $2. Her mother says she recognizes it is unjust to her, but she has no other option. They borrowed 25000 Afghanis from the factory to facilitate her mother’s medical expenses. To pay back, she is working as a bonded labourer now.
Sitara said she feels suffocated, but if she will quit doing it, her younger sisters will be forced and she doesn’t want that. She says her younger sister who is only 13 will face the same fate as her if she quits.
Bacha Poshi is a practice allowed in conservative societies which has an everlasting impact on the woman’s mind.
Baryalai Fetrat, Kabul University sociology professor, says that it is mentally damaging. These girls find it hard to go back to their normal life. After getting married, the same patriarchal society then expects them to be a ‘submissive’ wife, which is an undefined struggle for them as their prior gender-twisting life has put them in a role otherwise.
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