Albania’s Sworn Virgins

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Shkurtan Hasanpapaj - Truck DriverWashington Post reports on a group of women living in northern Albania who give up their gender and sexuality in exchange for independance and equality.

Dones, who lives in Rockville, had just met an adherent of an ancient northern Albanian tradition in which women take an oath of lifelong virginity in exchange for the right to live as men. The process is not surgical — in these mountains there is little knowledge that sex-change surgery is even possible. Rather, sworn virgins cut their hair and wear baggy men’s clothes and take up manly livelihoods as shepherds or truck drivers or even political leaders. And those around them — despite knowing the sworn virgins are women — treat them as men.

The reasons the women choose lives as men are many: to avoid an arranged marriage, to lead the family when the patriarch has died or simply out of a keen desire for independance. To break the oath, which is usually sworn in front of the town elders, was once punishible by death.