Sworn virgins of Albania, women who live as men

sworn virgins

Today I learned about the sworn virgins of Albania.

According to photographer Jill Peters, women living in tribal societies in rural Albania were subject to such prohibitive laws, known as the Kanun, that some have opted to live their lives as men instead.

Peters, who is working on a documentary about circumvented gender roles in the non-Western world, writes on her website:

“The Kanun states that women are considered to be the property of their husbands. The freedom to vote, drive, conduct business, earn money, drink, smoke, swear, own a gun or wear pants was traditionally the exclusive province of men. Young girls were commonly forced into arranged marriages, often with much older men in distant villages. Even though formal law now states otherwise, in many areas the old laws remain sacrosanct.

“As an alternative, becoming a  Sworn Virgin, or ‘burnesha” elevated a woman to the status of a man and granted her all the rights and privileges of the male population.”

Interesting that she’s given that option.

I also found the video posted below, however, which asserts that most women who became sworn virgins did so not to escape oppressive laws but because they were forced to do so after the male head of their household died. And because “blood feuds” are apparently quite popular in Albania, this seems to happen quite a bit. The doc also states that it’s Albanian women who keep this culture of revenge alive, not the men.

So, you know, I guess how this is presented all depends on your agenda.

Peters states that “only a few remain” as modernization is infiltrating the villages in the Alps, and most are older, though there’s one in her photos who looks like she’s in her twenties.

Check out her pictures of the burnesha here, see a National Geographic video here.

The more you know….

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