Book Talk: Women in Afghanistan, through a looking glass

Thu Oct 23, 2014 2:17pm EDT
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By Alistair Scrutton

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - When Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg visited the home of an Afghan parliamentarian, she was surprised to hear one of the politician's daughters declare of another child she had assumed was her six-year-old brother: "It's true, he is our little sister."

The comment exposed a striking truth about girls growing up in Afghanistan, the worst place in the world to be born female, according to the United Nations.

The more Nordberg looked into it, the more examples she found of Afghan parents raising daughters as boys to escape – at least until puberty - the harsh realities of life as a girl. The practice has a name: "bacha posh" which means "dressed like a boy" in Dari.

The result after several years of investigation is "The Underground Girls of Kabul", published by Crown Publishers in New York. Reuters spoke to the author about her research.

Q: How difficult was it to research the book?

A: At first I talked to the experts on Afghan history and culture ... and I was thoroughly dismissed by them, but I still knew ... that there had to be others. It turned out every single Afghan I asked knew someone - 'my cousin, my great grandmother, or a teacher, a doctor'. It became clear right away this was something Afghans were very aware of.

What was difficult was to connect to them. This is a closed society. To get the actual introduction took a lot of time. It took some very skilled Afghan interpreters. Afghans are very polite and welcoming. But they will not offer secrets right away. They had never been asked about this before and they had never told anyone about it.   Continued...