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
From School Library Journal
The girls portrayed in this book are not resisting with weapons or spying: they are simply living their lives as boys. The reasons are varied. The family needs help in a store. Women need a "male" relative to walk them on errands. Many girls call their status as a "boy" a type of magic—by showing that the family is ready for a boy, a real male child may arrive. Often, members of the community know the child is really a girl, but accept this gender switch and go along with the ruse. Nordberg focuses her narrative on the adult Azita. Her father educated her, but once she reached her prime childbearing years, she was married off to a rural, illiterate cousin. Somehow, Azita manages to win a government seat in her new district. Western readers will root for Azita to find a way out of this fiercely patriarchal arrangement, but Nordberg is astounding in her ability to elicit sympathy and rage for the women portrayed, while also attempting to explain why more elaborate female resistance may not yet be possible. Teenagers will find a great deal to think about in this well-researched and readable piece of reporting.—Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Jenny Nordberg is a New York-based foreign correspondent and a columnist for Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.
In 2010, she broke the story of "bacha posh" - how girls grow up disguised as boys in gender-segregated Afghanistan. The front page story was published in The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, and Nordberg's original research was used for opinion pieces around the world and inspired several works of fiction.
Her latest project, The Underground Girls of Kabul, to be published in ten countries in late 2014, reveals entirely new and previously unknown aspects of the practice and goes deep into the gender segregation and resistance among women in Afghanistan. Five years in the making, this cross-border investigation is described by Publisher's Weekly as "one of the most convincing portraits of Afghan culture in print." She is also developing bachaposh.com as an online resource for girls who have grown up as boys due to segregation.
Together with The Times' investigative unit, Nordberg previously worked on projects such as an examination of the American freight railroad system; a series that won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, and U.S. efforts at exporting democracy to Haiti. She has also produced and written several documentaries for American television, about Iraqi refugees, Pakistan's nuclear proliferation and the impact of the global financial crisis in Europe.
In Sweden, Nordberg was a member of the first investigative team at Swedish Broadcasting's national radio division, where she supervised projects on terrorism and politics. Nordberg has won awards from Investigative Reporters and Editors, The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Föreningen Grävande Journalister.
Jenny Nordberg holds a B.A. in Law and Journalism from Stockholm University, and an M.A. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.