When Girls Will Be Boys: The 'Sworn Virgins' of Albania

 

In Northern Albania, there is a code of conduct called the Kanun, which until recently has been a major shaping factor in Albanian social structure. The Kanun decrees that families must be headed by a male, and this has led to the tradition of the "sworn virgin", a biological female who is recognized in society as male. The Kanun allows women to become men by swearing celibacy and dressing as a male. The sworn virgin is seen as the "male" head of the household and is treated with the same respect that would be given to a biological male. "Sworn virgins" are also treated as males in the work place. Sworn virgins are able to serve in political positions and can work any job they so choose. Sworn virgins even adopt male mannerisms and consider themselves to be male. The reasons for becoming a sworn virgin vary. Some women decided to become sworn virgins for the social equality and freedom that was associated with being a male in Albanian society. Some women became sworn virgins out of necessity. If there happened to be no make descendants and the patriarch of the family were to die, the family would designate one of the daughters to become the "patriarch" of the family. Others become sworn virgins to escape from entering an arranged marriage without disgracing their arranged groom's family as well as their own. Sworn virgins assume the full responsibility of the patriarch. Their responsibilities include receiving guests, supervising the family's wealth, and defending the family in a blood feud. There are around forty sworn virgins living in Albania at this time. The tradition is slowly dying out because of the influence of larger western societies on Albanian culture. Today there is more equality among the sexes in Albania, which eliminates the need for women to give up their sexuality. The Kanun no longer has as strong of a control on family structure as it once did. The belief that families must be headed by a male is fading, which has contributed to the decline of the sworn virgin.

References

Bilefsky, Dan. "Sworn to Virginity and Living as Men in Albania." International Herald Tribune 23 June 2008. New York Times. 15 Jan. 2009 http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/23/europe/virgins.php?page=1.

"Crossing Boundaries: Albania's Sworn Virgins." Joliqe.com. 15 Jan. 2009 http://www.jolique.com/gender/crossing_boundaries.htm.

Zumbrun, Joshua. "The Sacrifice's of Albania's Sworn Virgins." Washington Post 11 Aug. 2007. 15 Jan. 2009 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/10/AR200708....

 

Last updated January 28, 2009

 

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