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Dressed in men’s suit, male stance, bearing a male name too. But they were not so at birth: as babies they were females. Indeed, they still are, but following the dictates of an old law dating from the 15th century, they have “chosen” to live in a very special way. We’re talking about the sworn virgins.

We are in Albania and in the mountainous areas of Kosovo where, governed by tradition, a law still exists, the Kanun, law that treats women the exclusive property of their husbands or fathers. To prove it, the wedding day is delivered from which at its discretion can be killed at any time. This is what you are opposite: a life by slaves. But to do so they had to embrace an equally radical choice: deny themselves. Now they can live as men, holding a gun, sell or buy property, drinking or smoking, quit.

The price to pay, however – as mentioned – is very high. The burnesha – are called theSworn virgins-Albania had to give up not only to their being a woman, but in the mostly their total sexuality. They have never experienced the thrill of a kiss because they have sworn that no man ever will. Motherhood, femininity for them will remain just a mystery, until their death. To survive their psyche leads to anesthetize the choice made, so that they themselves do not feel even curiosity, either for men or for women. But they know that however they are forbidden to nurture any desire. A slap in the face to those who believe that certain attitudes are now outdated, that freedom of expression is the value on which the new millennium.

But how do you become a burrnesha? Since small, or even in early adolescence, they make an oath before a dozen men, devoting themselves to absolute chastity. Or worse: it’s the father who forces them to this promise to have a male figure in the family, but who does not continue the family-line. The aim – as mentioned – is clear: to enjoy all rights reserved exclusively to men and escape a life of subservience in anarchaic or sexist society.

At a first sight it might seem like a free choice of self-determination, but is instead a desire to escape from the cage of social prejudices to trigger spring. A fatal decision, the law does not allow you to go back on your steps: in case of “repentance” the sentence is the death penalty.

Over the centuries this custom has been gradually disappearing, yet today there are ten Sworn Virgins. The origin of the phenomenon continues to discuss. Recently somescholars speculate that this was a way to express homosexuality. But anthropologist Antonia Young rejected the idea, since in a very sexist society as that desired by the Kanun male homosexuality was an unquestionable taboo while the female has never been taken into account. Among other things to consider that the sexuality of these women was and is totally suppressed and does not in any way fall part of their new status.

The story remains emblematic for those who still today, in 2015, are forced to change their skin to have a role in society. Especially if woman. But are we so convinced that it is only an ancient heritage, limited to a few dozen people in a remote land of Albania?!


Traslation by Marina Stronati

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