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The Underground Girls of Kabul The Hidden Lives of Afghan Girls Disguised as Boys by Jenny Nordberg

The Underground Girls of Kabul The Hidden Lives of Afghan Girls Disguised as Boys

Biography / Autobiography   

Sue Baker's view...

Jenny Nordberg’s book is prefaced with Roya Ehsas’s telling poem, which ends “I would love to be anything in nature/ But not a woman/ Not an Afghan woman”. The author, a writer and TV producer, knows the Afghan region well and one of her contacts who had 4 daughters one day appeared to have 3 daughters and one son, revealing the Afghan tradition of “Bacha Posh”, girls living as boys. Mainly this tradition survives to enable parents to escape the “shame” of having no sons, in the past too, women acted as male harem guards. Mainly the girls lose their male status at puberty but there are cases of women living of men all their lives, living as go-betweens in one of the most strictly segregated nations on earth. Through investigating this little-known phenomenon, Jenny Nordberg reveals a great deal about the role of women in Afghanistan.

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Who is Sue Baker


The Underground Girls of Kabul The Hidden Lives of Afghan Girls Disguised as Boys by Jenny Nordberg

An Afghan woman's life expectancy is just 44 years, and her life cycle often begins and ends in disappointment: being born a girl and finally, having a daughter of her own. For some, disguising themselves as boys is the only way to get ahead. Nordberg follows women such as Azita Rafaat, a parliamentarian who once lived as a Bacha Posh, the mother of seven-year-old Mehran, who she is raising as a Bacha Posh as well, but for different reasons than in the past. There's Zahra, a teenage student living as a boy who is about to display signs of womanhood as she enters puberty. And Skukria, a hospital nurse who remained in a Bacha Posh disguise until she was twenty, and who now has three children of her own. Exploring the historical roots of this tradition, The Underground Girls of Kabul is a fascinating and moving investigation.


'Nordberg's subtle, sympathetic reportage makes this one of the most convincing portraits of Afghan culture in print' -- Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Jenny Nordberg is an award-winning journalist based in New York. A correspondent and columnist for Swedish national newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, she has a long record of investigative reports for, among others, the New York Times, where she also contributed to a series that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. In 2010, she was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism for a television documentary on Afghan women. She is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

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Book Info

Publication date

30th November 1999


Jenny Nordberg

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