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"Sworn Virgins" of Albania

"A perfectly ordinary girl, perhaps with aspirations of marriage and becoming a mother is asked by her family to take a vow of celibacy and foreswear sexual relations for life. She is not being encouraged to join a convent. She is taking on the responsibility and honor of protecting her home, her family and socially becoming a man. In the solidly patriarchal and tribal areas plagued by blood feuds and honor killings of Albania's rural mountain villages many such women who have "become" men act as the heads of their households. For sacrificing their innate natures, they are afforded considerable masculine privileges. Skirts and blouses are traded for trousers and button downs, long hair cropped to a manly stubble. They smoke, work and swagger about town with the other men. They are referred to as "he" and "uncle". Their absolute transition is accepted, posited and taken without question by the people among whom they live. They are called Sworn Virgins of Albania, or ‘burneshas’. There are only a handful left.”


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