The Underground Girls of Kabul

The Underground Girls of Kabul

In Search of A Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan

Book - 2014
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In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as "dressed up like a boy") is a third kind of child -- a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, expands her account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom. Profiles include Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents' attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults. At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America's longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.
Publisher: New York : Crown Publishers, [2014]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9780307952493
Branch Call Number: 305.309581 N828u 2014
Characteristics: ix, 350 pages ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

In Afghanistan, women have few rights and little freedom. In this restrictive society, a bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as "dressed up like a boy") is a a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world.

Nordberg investigates the practice of bacha posh where some parents choose to have their daughters live as sons.

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Aug 31, 2016

I despise books like this, along the lines of cotton candy for the mind one finds at NPR, et cetera!
Yes, it is important to grasp the plight of girls and women in modern-day Afghanistan, but it is far more important to understand that it WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS, that before Jimmy Carter's administration moved to destabilize the then secular government of Afghanistan back in the 1970s, by colluding with Saudi Arabia to move Islamic extremists to Afghanistan's northern border with the old Soviet Union to foment trouble, women weren't under the thumb of the Mujahedeen, or the rebranded Taliban.
Also, it was the Clintons, back in the 1990s, who welcomed the Taliban to America, while barring the brave leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud [to be assassinated by al Qaeda two days prior to 9/11] and also warring on Serbs and Roma, using Islamic extremists in that matter!
Yes, the situation of the Afghanistani female is atrocious - - but it must always be explained how it came to be, just as how it is most logical that Omar Mateen's father [Omar murdered those people in Orlando] would endorse both the Taliban and Hillary Clinton in her presidential campaign!

antrakoka2 Apr 16, 2016

This is one of those life view altering books. This book has a historical significance, documenting all aspects of Afghan woman's life, starting from bathroom use, drinking, eating and breastfeeding and ending with upper levels of government politics.
The journalist who wrote this book is beyond being brave, traveling to rural towns just to meet and get to know the real life of the women in Afghanistan.

Nov 05, 2015

The Underground Girls of Kabul documents a complicated practice that is at once an act of resistance against the socially enforced gender order, and a concession to sexist ideas about what behaviours and activities are appropriate only for boys.

Read my full review here:

Feb 17, 2015

This is one of the most fascinating books that I have read in a long time. It took me a while to digest it before I could write about it. At times I could not put it down and at other times I needed a break from reading it.

From the beginning, I thought that the author would follow the story of a half a dozen girls, but from the stories the author then gathers a fair amount of research in the culture and other cultures of other nations where similar situations have occurred in history.

Background (which is well developed in the book): When a family has no sons, often the youngest girl is dressed in boys' clothing and acts the part of a boy until puberty. It serves the purpose of given status to the family (for having a son), the "boy" can often escort his female relatives to places they could not go without a male relative; and, especially in poorer families, the "son" can help the father at work.

Most of these "sons," return to being girls when they reach puberty.

Many girls are happy for the opportunity, for it gives them the one thing that they lack, i.e. freedom.

It is important that the reader keep an open mind as s/he reads the book, and as a result the reader will learn a lot about the Afghani culture and about the powerful women in the cuture.

Jan 24, 2015

I couldn't disagree more with the previous comment. This is an excellent book explaining the important issues facing women in Afghanistan today. The author covers the history and culture of this part of the world, and gives a well written account of how these women live. I have read many books on this topic, and feel this is one of the best. When you consider all the money that has been spent to 'improve the lives of Afghan women' this shows that little has changed. One comment that stuck for me 'Perhaps some of that money should have been spent on educating the men'
A must read for those interested in the lives of women in other parts of the world.

Jan 03, 2015

This is an entire book that could have easily been a magazine article. Once the basic concept is explained, all the rest is repetition. I'm not in the habit of giving up on books but, having read 20% (according to my Kobo), I'd had enough. Don't bother.


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Nov 05, 2015

“Although none of the girls chose their boyhood voluntarily, most say they enjoy their borrowed status. It all depends on what they get to do with it. For each child, it boils down to perks versus burdens.”


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